October 17, 2011

Greeks and Gorges

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These two topics have dominated much discourse about campus issues this semester, and fittingly enough, the Board of Trustees’ Student Life Committee will discuss them both later this week. Let me offer my perspectives on both issues. If you agree with me, let me know; even more importantly, if you disagree, let me know! It is my job as a Cornell trustee to gauge and discuss responses to issues with which the Board deals.Greeks. The two major issues: (1) implementation of changes to the Greek Recognition Policy and (2) concerns about hazing during the pledging process. With respect to the former, I can only say that I support opportunities given to student leaders to determine how to conform to the new regulations. The changes were necessary; equally crucial is the role of Cornell’s shared governance system in seeing to their effective implementation.In relation to the latter point, I am highly disappointed with much of the public rhetoric. Why do people continually feel the need to comment on the semantics of President David Skorton’s editorial in The New York Times, as opposed to offering constructive ideas to address the very real problems? Let me sum up what I heard President Skorton clearly define as the concern in his article: (1) bad things are happening during the pledging process, (2) we have not fully addressed these bad things through current policies or regulations, either at the student governance or University administration levels, therefore (3) we need to undertake a paradigm shift in how we think about addressing these issues. Who can seriously argue with such claims? Who can argue with the process either? A task force including representatives from all affected parties, chaired by a student leader and a Greek alumnus, is identifying roads forward.Hazing, the categorical name for the “bad things” referenced above, is something that threatens a student’s autonomy and his or her mental and physical health. It has no place anywhere, including, but not limited to, the Greek system. A small minority of speakers on this issue have expressed doubt about the value of the Greek system at all. Such hopelessly naïve and uninformed comments hardly warrant a response, save to say that enriching extracurricular and experiential opportunities of many sorts are essential to a complete college experience. Gorges. Losing cherished members of our community in these wonderfully sublime but potentially treacherous natural areas is unacceptable; this goes without contest. There are, however, several ideas about how to proceed, many of which are not mutually exclusive. My general thought here is the more solutions tried in concert, the better. Vice presidents Susan Murphy ’73 and Mary Opperman have convened four committees to propose strategies for reducing safety risks and promoting safe use of the gorges through communication, education, stewardship, enforcement and recreational alternatives. From sitting on the recreational alternatives committee and following the work of the others, I am highly optimistic about the eventual recommendations that the vice presidents will present to President Skorton. One recommendation from multiple committees has been to establish a standing University gorge safety committee that is empowered, funded and accountable so that gorge safety and access remains an ongoing commitment of Cornell.   While many suggestions are valuable, some that have been forwarded simply have no place in an informed conversation on this issue. The idea of fencing off the gorges is not only pitifully ignorant of students’ ability to circumvent such barriers, but, even worse, also ignores the immensely positive effects that the vast majority of people derive from these natural areas when using them safely. What’s next, barbed wire on top of electrified fences?One contention with merit has been that people need to get the lead out and actually move on this issue. I believe the senior administration has done this by creating the four committees, reviewing their reports and starting to compile final recommendations that will be presented to the President in early November. To the extent that the Board of Trustees will review this issue, I assure you we will move with all due speed and diligence. For all staff, faculty and students interested in discussing these or other issues with which the Board of Trustees deals, several campus and local trustees will be hosting a listening session this Tuesday from 4 – 5 p.m. in Mann 102 to hear your thoughts, ideas and concerns. Darrick Nighthawk Evensen is a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and the graduate student-elected trustee. He may be reached at dte6@cornell.edu. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Darrick Nighthawk Evensen