September 11, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Questioning whether ‘Skorton Is Right’

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To the Editor:

Re: “Why Skorton Is Right” Opinion, Sept. 9

I’ve read every opinion President David Skorton has written so far regarding pledging. I understand that to him, pledging and hazing are synonymous and inextricably bound together. I know that his campaign against pledging is one that is meant to reduce liability for Cornell. I understand all this, even if it disappoints me. What worries me are the misunderstandings expressed in the column “Why President Skorton is Right” and I think those claims need to be clarified.

The author wrote that Skorton only tries to ban “abusive pledging” and “dehumanizing factors.” Were this the case, I and hopefully every other member of the Greek community would be behind it 110 percent, but that is not in fact what Skorton has said. The author also wrote that the Skorton proposal only bans “activities that effectively take the form of hazing.”

It is true that Skorton describes an end to hazing in his op-eds, but he calls it pledging. Skorton drew the distinction when he said, “I am urging student leaders in our Greek system … to end the current system of pledging nationally, along with the hazing, alcohol abuse, bullying and humiliation that too often accompany it.” He does not just want to end hazing, alcohol abuse, bullying and humiliation, which would be worthy goals; he stated he wants to end pledging. This makes sense if you believe the erroneous definition Skorton uses in his New York Times article — pledging defined as “the performance of demeaning or dangerous acts as a condition of membership” — but not if you understand that pledging is actually the process of learning to be a brother. Hazing should bring disgrace to a fraternity, but hazing-free pledging is an incredibly valuable and positive experience.

If this Sun columnist’s understanding of Skorton’s plan is correct and the president wants to end hazing and not pledging, than count me among his supporters. However, calling an end to all pledging without clarification on what he thinks pledging means is irresponsible. The author says “Skorton is Right,” but I don’t think he accurately portrayed what Skorton has communicated.

— Maxwell Schechter ’14