November 26, 2012

Cornell Interfraternity Council: Alarming Number of Recent Infractions

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An unusually high number of reports of judicial violations to the Interfraternity Council during the last few weeks constitutes an alarming trend and could lead to more severe penalties for infractions, according to Greek leaders.

The interim suspensions of three fraternity chapters earlier this month are just the more serious incidents in a slew of recent reports of fraternity infractions. Hospitalizations, while remaining at levels comparable to other semesters, have also seen an upward trend over the last few months, according to IFC President Chris Sanders ’13.

“I can’t remember the last time we had three fraternities placed on interim suspension within a couple of weeks,” Sanders said.

The sharp uptick in judicial referrals, which began about halfway through the current semester, followed a “particularly slow” first few weeks — characterized by a dearth of reported violations, according to Sanders.

“The beginning of the semester was particularly slow. There were literally next to no incidents that occurred over the first six weeks to the best of my knowledge,” he said.

IFC and the University grew hopeful, he said.

“We said good work — the administration was happy with the progress we had made, we were very excited,” Sanders said. “While we did know that freshmen were still attending events, we knew chapters were taking extra precautions to ensure safety and were working hard. There was a sense of social responsibility.”

But the lull did not last long.

Cornell’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs has seen an unusually high influx of reports and allegations this month — “a lot more than normal,” according to Ken Babcock ’13, vice president of judicial affairs for the IFC, who called the increased frequency of reports “alarming.”

Both Sanders and Babcock attributed the uptick in part to what they said is a growing sense of complacency among fraternity members regarding University rules and regulations.

“My theory has been that chapters figured out a way to not get into trouble, maybe go around the rules. When you do that for a period of time, you get comfortable, you get complacent and then something happens when you’re not taking the same precautions and not managing the risk in a safe way,” Babcock said. “Confidence builds up and you get overconfident.”

After several weeks of getting comfortable operating under — and around — the new rules this semester, chapters began to grow lax with risk management, Sanders added. They started to make mistakes, some of which “ended up having very serious consequences,” he said.

“Fraternities choose to play with fire, they run the risk of getting burned. As cliche as that expression may be, I suspect that this is what we’re now witnessing,” Sanders said.

Recently, some fraternities that have typically avoided judicial action in the past have been called before the judicial board, a phenomenon that is troubling to the IFC, Babcock said. Also worrisome is that the board is facing a “huge number” of chapters appearing before it with multiple reports of violations, often of a similar nature, he said.

For instance, Cornell is investigating a series of alcohol violations at the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity within the past year to determine whether there is a pattern of dangerous behavior at the chapter, according to IFC leaders.

In late October, a female guest was transported from Pi Kapp to the hospital after drinking too much, Sanders said. The University placed the chapter on interim suspension earlier this month while it invesigates the incident.

The hospitalizaion was “indicative of behavior [the IFC] had recently seen in the house,” according to Babcock, who said the hospitalization came soon after a prior interim suspension was lifted from the chapter.

“Based on what we know from the information we have [about Pi Kapp], we have reason to believe that this is a trend,” Babcock said. “We recently took them off of [interim suspension] in a way that allowed them to resume normal operations. For us, it’s worrisome because once you revoke that and then something of this magnitude happens, it raises some red flags.”

Although he said that the IFC is continuing to work on keeping chapters from violating University policy, Sanders added that Greek leaders are running out of patience.

“We’re almost to a point where there’s not much more legislation that we can do. It comes down to the fraternities stepping up and taking responsibility,” he said. “Chapters have had the opportunity to prove that they can hold themselves and each other accountable. However, the incidents of late indicate that they may not necessarily be capable of doing so — but they need to.”

Sanders said he anticipates more stringent enforcement of rules and stricter judicial penalties coming from the IFC and the University.

“While I can not speak on behalf of members of the judicial board, from my perspective I can foresee the judicial board potentially being more strict when evaluating cases and issuing sentences. If similar worrisome behavior continues, a sustained uptick in the amount of interim suspensions and potential review board hearings will most likely follow,” he said. “While the safety of our constituents remains our chief concern, this pattern of behavior is not sustainable. We as the active student members must lead [in implementing] change.”

Original Author: Rebecca Harris