Over the course of our time at Cornell, we have seen a full evolution of Cornell’s policy toward fraternities and sororities. While we have previously expressed concern about the overly heavy-handed nature of the University’s response to the Greek system, recent events have made clear to us that the Greek system is incapable of making broad cultural changes on its own.
In the last month, three fraternities were suspended, including one that was accused of holding a hazing event in which two students were hospitalized. It is disturbing that these incidents come only one year after a Cornell sophomore died in a hazing ritual. It is difficult to assign blame when the entire fraternity culture is responsible.
President David Skorton issued a pledge to eliminate fraternity hazing in a column he penned for The New York Times in August 2011. On Wednesday, the University released the proposal to “end pledging as we know it” and to make good on Skorton’s statement. However, eliminating hazing from the Greek system can only come with broad cultural changes, and these changes can only happen by eliminating pledging entirely.
As part of fulfilling Skorton’s pledge, chapters will be required to seek prior approval for all events for their prospective new members starting in January. The new member education will be shortened to six weeks this year and four weeks next year. Eventually, chapters may be required to let Cornell emergency responders enter their houses and have live-in advisors. While it may seem like these steps will fix the situation, we doubt their efficacy; they will not eliminate the perverse dynamic that leads to hazing in the first place.
Any student joining a house should be immediately initiated. While fraternities will argue that students need this time before membership to learn the rituals and traditions of the house, we see no reason why this cannot happen after these members are formally initiated.
Instead of having the threat of not being accepted looming over students’ heads, there are other ways to incentivize new members’ participation in the valuable parts of fraternities: tradition, bonding and philanthropy. The fact that fraternities must rely on pledging for their members to participate in activities shows a complete lack of creativity.
Changing the culture of fraternities on campus is not something that can be done through the normal judicial process. It is not something that can be altered by tragedy. Instead, it seems that the only option is eliminating pledging entirely.