May 1, 2012

Plans Emerge for Pledging Restructuring

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If approved, a proposed overhaul of Cornell’s Greek system would aim to eradicate hazing by integrating members into Greek life before they join individual houses and by requiring “at-risk” fraternities to have live-in advisors, among other changes.

Nine months ago, President David Skorton declared to Greek leaders that “pledging as we know it has to stop.” Now, Cornell’s fraternities and sororities face the first substantial response to Skorton’s decree.

On Friday, representatives of Recruitment, Acceptance, Retention and Education — a committee composed of 24 national experts, administrators and Greek leaders, including 13 students — broadcast their preliminary recommendations for reforming pledging in a webinar with alumni. The changes will be brought before the Board of Trustees in May and could receive final approval in October, according to the presentation.

After George Desdunes ’13 — a brother of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity — died in February 2011 allegedly as a result of pledging activities, Skorton tasked the Cornell Greek system with eliminating the “degrading, humiliating and dangerous” aspects of pledging.

To meet Skorton’s demands, the RARE committee hopes to “eliminate hazing through the overhaul of what we currently call the pledge process,” according to Travis Apgar, associate dean of fraternity and sorority affairs, who led the webinar.

To that end, the committee proposes a plethora of changes, big and small, that advance a mixture of educational and punitive measures.

One recommendation put forth is for the University to hire a specialist to address hazing in all campus organizations. The committee also seeks to shorten the new member education period, which currently lasts up to eight weeks.

Furthermore, the committee recommends that the Greek system “eliminate the words ‘pledge,’ ‘pledging’ and other derogatory terms meant to separate new and active members.”

“[Pledge] definitely has a negative connotation … that’s hard to remove. So let’s start using some different language,” said Ken Babcock ’13, vice president for judicial affairs for the Interfraternity Council.

Although Apgar acknowledged that, “obviously, we’re not going to strike it from the English language,” he added that substituting words that better reflect “the kind of experience we find acceptable” can be effective in changing perceptions.

Among the recommendations most likely to spark controversy is a proposal to require “at-risk” chapters — those deemed to have demonstrated poor decision-making in areas such as recruitment, alcohol use or financial stability — to host a live-in advisor for a minimum of four years.

Apgar said that this advisor could provide “a more mature presence” to help chapters “make responsible decisions around things like new member education and alcohol.”

The University’s overhaul of the Greek system — which predates the changes to pledging — has already elicited discontent from student leaders.

In response to Desdunes’ death, the University handed down changes to the University’s recognition policy for fraternities and sororities in August. The IFC Executive Board denounced the decision, claiming the IFC had not been consulted by the administration in its plan to dramatically restrict recruitment.

Restrictions included banning freshmen from attending open parties and disallowing interaction between freshmen and Greek houses for the first half of the semester. Freshmen were only permitted to engage in activities to learn about individual chapters during the remainder of the semester.

Another of RARE’s more substantial proposals is to bring students who intend to join houses into the larger Greek community prior to allowing them to commit to specific chapters.

“We want to welcome new prospective members into Greek life first, before individuals join chapters,” said Corinna Romantic ’12, former president of the Panhellenic Council and a RARE co-chair.

According to Apgar, this fundamental change to the new member intake process would likely manifest in a period of education and “bonding” that would occur prior to Rush Week — and would be required of those seeking eligibility to participate in formal recruitment.

“It might include different sessions where people learn about what the fraternity and sorority experience will be like, educating them on things like hazing,” he said. “What’s been suggested by the group is bonding and social experience to create more Greek unity.”

Original Author: Rebecca Harris