August 27, 2012

Despite New Initiatives, Freshmen Party in Collegetown

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Correction appended

One year after the University ramped up efforts to prevent freshmen from attending fraternity events with alcohol, a predominant trend during Orientation Week remains: A large number of students, including freshmen, are flocking to parties held by Greek chapters at Collegetown apartments and annexes.

“There were freshmen in Collegetown. I’m not sure if some houses felt they could get away with it, or that we wouldn’t know about it,” Interfraternity Council President Chris Sanders ’13 said. “But these chapters run the risk of being found in violation of University rules. They know that if something happens, they will be held responsible.”

Fraternities are prohibited from hosting unregistered events and from inviting freshmen to parties where drinking occurs. Contact between freshmen and individual Greek chapters is supposed to be eliminated entirely during the first quarter of the Greek system’s new timeline, which splits the year into four periods governed by different policies. The first quarter includes Orientation Week.

Though these rules were already in place for Orientation Week in the past, Sanders said there was an “increased expectation” that fraternity leadership would abide by these rules this year, following the sweeping new restrictions on Greek life handed down by the administration last summer.

“Freshmen just aren’t supposed to be allowed,” he said.

Travis Apgar, associate dean of fraternity and sorority affairs, said Monday that it is often difficult to determine whether a Collegetown house is affiliated with a fraternity chapter.

In the event that an incident should occur, Apgar said, the University would investigate who hosted the event, what guests were invited and whether the event served a recruitment purpose.

“It’s our hope that the fraternities aren’t trying to find loopholes and put themselves — and their guests — in risky situations,” he said. “Just because the event is happening outside of their house doesn’t mean it isn’t a violation.”

Sanders said that although the IFC has not yet met to discuss whether any infractions occurred during Orientation Week, he cautioned that fraternities are not above the rules.

“They are choosing to play with fire,” Sanders said of chapters who held open parties with alcohol last week. “If it’s reported that they served alcohol and hosted freshmen, they need to understand that the IFC will act on it.”

Ken Babcock ’13, IFC vice president for judicial affairs, said that, at this point, he is not aware of any specific incident in which freshmen were reported drinking in a fraternity annex. He also said he could not determine whether fraternities were primarily responsible for the high level of drinking in Collegetown.

“If an event is contained within someone’s house, which might not even be a fraternity, police are not going to enter a private household with the assumption that it’s a frat breaking the rules,” Babcock said. “The primary concern is safety. If an event was visibly out of control, it was broken up.”

Avoiding run-ins with police is the best way for a fraternity to protect itself while hosting freshmen at parties with alcohol during Orientation Week, said one fraternity president who wished to remain anonymous in order to detail, without fear of recourse, how his chapter skirts IFC rules and regulations.

“There’s a lot of freshmen coming through, and you don’t know the risk that all of them pose to your party, your fraternity,” he said. “But if you do a good job of managing the risk, it’ll work out.”

He added that “the police are pretty upfront about their rules,” which he said include avoiding open containers of alcohol, keeping people off the porch and “not making a scene” outside.

“If you keep people off front porches and keep outside noise to a minimum, then you’ll have fewer problems,” he said. “Make sure to station guys at the door who are responsible enough to manage the front of the house but menacing enough to scare away drunk clowns from turning your private party into an uncontrollable disaster.”

Babcock said that he did not know of any “public” Facebook invitations to parties during Orientation Week. Rather, he emphasized that fraternities are allowed to use the social medium as a channel for event invitations, as long as the Facebook event is “private” and no freshmen are invited.

Babcock added that he believes the new rules enacted over the last few years have made fraternities more aware of the need to find a balance between organizing alcohol-fueled events and meeting new freshmen in an alcohol-free setting.

“Cornell students are smart enough,” he said. “Even if the chapters decide to invite freshmen, they understand where the rules stand. They’re less likely to take higher risks and promote unsafe behavior, especially if freshmen are there.”

According to Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner, it is not CUPD’s duty to ensure fraternities are following the rules. Instead, she said their focus is to reduce risky behavior linked to alcohol consumption.

“We’re working on an effort to make Collegetown a place where students and permanent residents can coexist peacefully,” Zoner said. “Aside from the alcohol-related crimes that were committed last week, the biggest disappointment was how Collegetown residences were left after parties. It is very insulting to have to wade through an ocean of red solo cups on your way to work.”

Zoner and David Honan, deputy chief of operations, said that CUPD is working this year to foster a stronger partnership with the Ithaca Police Department — which has more legal jurisdiction over the privately-owned homes in Collegetown — an effort they hope will allow them to better reduce risky behaviors within the community.

“We patrol the streets early in the night,” said Honan, who described the pre-party phase of alerting students they see walking in Collegetown to stay safe and stay off of the streets. “There were numerous incidences of alcohol over-consumption and hospitalization. If we catch anyone doing something illegal, we will report it.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Travis Apgar, associate dean of students, as saying that he knew fraternities used Facebook to host events in Collegetown. In fact, Apgar did not say he knew of these events.

Original Author: Harrison Okin