September 25, 2011

Letter to the Editor: A constructive process

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To the Editor:

Re: “Answering the Call,” Opinion, Sept. 22

To most fraternity leaders, pledging represents something much more than what it is currently being defined as — hazing. What has become a grammatical battle over the definition of pledging versus hazing actually has an underlying, troublesome issue at its heart. While hazing is intolerable and demeaning, a process that respectfully acclimates a new member to a Greek organization is not.  As we move forward, it should be our community’s goal to find a system that preaches the latter and rids us of the former.

Hazing is loosely defined by Cornell as something that causes physical or mental distress through humiliation, intimidation or other various avenues. Fraternity pledging is deemed to be the root of mental and physical distress at Cornell. While pledging is undoubtedly a time commitment, new member education within a fraternity can be more constructive than any other organization’s intake process.

Our community, and its intake processes, represent much more than an invitation to be in the company of other Cornell men.  Our fraternity values — whether national or local — form the pillars for membership. Every house’s history creates an appreciation for the traditions and values that have persisted for decades. Generations of brothers, including many illustrious Cornell alumni, have created identities for Greek houses that allow for 39 diverse fraternal organizations to coexist.  Personal development, in the form of social immersion, turns young freshmen or sophomores into men of character. These men of character are the leaders of on-campus organizations like The Cornell Daily Sun, the S.A., various business fraternities, and college-specific academic integrity boards — to name just a few. Learning and living these ideals is what defines the new member process for so many individuals, and entire Greek organizations, on this campus.

However, the external perception of pledging has brought scrutiny upon Cornell’s Greek system, while the internal appreciation for new member education has fostered strong opposition to the challenge to end pledging. Throughout these tumultuous months of changing regulation, the focus on new member education has been to alter the mindset to embrace an even playing field where new members are treated as brothers and openly welcomed into our organizations.

As President David Skorton, Dean Travis Apgar and others have clarified, signing a bid to join a fraternity does not entail — and should never entail — immediate membership without positive forms of character and leadership building. Although a period of subordination sounds harshly similar to the attitude found in a hazing environment, I can assure you that this is a misunderstanding. Every organization on campus strives to acclimate new members by teaching them about their history and organizational personality. This isn’t done to degrade or demean individuals; it is done to foster leadership in an organization by instilling pride and creating meaning for new members.

While we are proud of the positive outcomes of pledging, we as a Greek system understand that improvements need to be made. President Skorton’s challenge to abolish “pledging as we know it,” while vague, demands we take a critical lens towards our new member processes. The fear of many Greek leaders is that the administration’s lens may focus too intensely on the process as a whole rather than appreciating its finer points. Unfortunately, hazing is seen as a component of pledging, and the latter is equated with the former. Among the IFC, an overwhelming opinion has emerged: hazing is an abominable practice that needs to be eliminated. After losing a fellow Greek this past February, Greek leaders are in full agreement that things like what happened to George Desdunes have no place at Cornell — or anywhere for that matter.

Safe, and effectual, is a type of pledging that Cornell Greek leaders can create. With countless chapters who already exhibit respectable practices, we can work with each other to adapt. We know we have to change in ways that will ensure the viability of the Greek system, but we also know that most of what we currently do has a positive effect on our members. The mindset from this point forward will be one that encompasses both the aspects that instill prideful and contributing members as well as making sure that constructive aspects of our new member processes don’t fall victim to ambiguous definitions and imprecise directives. When you combine these two goals, you end up with something incredibly enriching: an infinite, fraternal bond and a lifelong perspective.

Ken Babcock ’13, Phi Kappa Tau

Bobby LaRoche ’12, Sigma Phi Society

Mike McLaughlin ’13, Delta Phi

Sam Eisenman ’13, Delta Chi

Tim Dooley ’12, Chi Psi

Patrick Bartlett ’13, FIJI

Caleb Crim ’13, Sigma Nu