February 11, 2013

GLICK: Greek Solutions: Houses Divided Cannot Stand

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In my previous column, I analyzed the tenuous state of Cornell’s fraternity culture through the contextual lens of Greece’s seemingly never-ending fiscal tumult. The ending prognosis was not optimistic. And while I want to use my biweekly column post to address a wide range of issues without being pigeonholed as the “Greek columnist,” I felt that it would be irresponsible to leave the issue as is. Pundits can easily decry society’s ills and invoke powerful metaphors to presage doom — it’s much harder to offer solutions.

So, before I leave behind the University’s besieged and self-immolating Greek System, I will try to offer a way out of these dire straits. Reform will not come in a series of top-down changes foisted upon decades-old institutions. What fraternities needs is a new leadership framework.

I’m not talking about another administrative panel to address the scourge of fraternity life. As I wrote in my last column, such attempts at reform will only push the Greek system dangerously underground. Fraternities need a forum that is honest and constructive, far from the conflicts-of-interest and agenda-driven antagonism that is the Interfraternity Council’s relationship with the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. If the Greek System requires an overhaul, it must come from a Fraternal Congress: an assembly of fraternity members that can convene without University oversight.

This idea of a Fraternal Congress (and I won’t be upset if someone thinks of a better name) is simple, yet amazingly consequential if realized. The current Greek arrangement creates a perversely Darwinian ecosystem in which fraternities are expected to break the rules. Those that survive are not the ones who listen best to the IFC’s rules, but those who have best adapted to evading punishment. The University, with its intensifying sanctions, has helped create an atmosphere where fraternities’ best bet is simply to hope that their annex is not the one raided on any given weekend.

It’s a dangerous game of Russian roulette that encourages a certain amount of hostility among fraternities (someone has to get caught, after all). It can only be stopped if fraternities present a well-reasoned, unified position, independent of the University’s vision.

This Fraternal Congress would be akin to the meeting of pirate lords in the third Pirates of the Caribbean blockbuster, or even — if you forgive me a moment of nerdiness — the fantastical summit somewhere in the first two hours of The Fellowship of the Ring. Leaders of proud, distinct, often quarreling entities gather together in spite of rivalries to stave off existential threats. The student leaders of all fraternities must congregate and acknowledge that with every banned chapter, the University inches closer to a critical mass where the Greek system is no longer deemed a valuable part of Cornell. That reality demands action, not self-victimization — and there’s no magic spell to fix that.

Without constant charges of oppression and unfairness, this Fraternal Congress could do what the IFC cannot: reset the standards of Greek life from within to meet University goals. Unlike the IFC, this Congress would not be tasked with policing the fraternity system, therefore enabling it to address the Catch-22 that haunts the core of this crisis: fraternities will be marginalized if they continue to violate University policies; if they follow those policies, however, they will be unable to provide the fraternity experience students have come to expect. For example, Rush Week is nearly impossible if you are the only house playing by the rules. If a fraternity curbs its excesses, the IFC will be placated, but freshmen (and, frankly, female friends) will be alienated. They will instead gravitate towards more reckless fraternities that can fulfill the social expectations of Greek life. Those fraternities, in turn, continue the Greek community’s downward spiral.

Chaos reigns.

Fraternities are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. It is the University’s prerogative to punish them if they don’t, but the fraternities’ responsibility to ensure they it is socially acceptable if they do. If fraternities resolve to plan a more mellow Rush Week, a gentler pledge process and a more courteous party atmosphere, then there will be less social risk in obeying University demands.

A single, courageous fraternity cannot fully embrace University reforms without abdicating its social niche. Reform, therefore, can only work if the vast majority of fraternities together take the plunge and renegotiate the social perception of Greek life at Cornell. When this happens, IFC compliance will become less of a stigma.

Pressure to break rules is just as acute as pressure to follow them. Both pressures must be diffused. The playing field must be leveled. Only the fraternities themselves — and not the University — can do that. With that, I swear my next column will not mention the word “Greek!”

Jacob Glick is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at ­[email protected] Glickin’ It appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Jacob Glick