April 9, 2013

Debate Weighs Pros, Cons of Greek System at Cornell

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The Greek system, which one in three students at Cornell are members of, has recently come under scrutiny for its association with binge drinking, hazing and sexual assault. In light of the controversy surrounding the Greek system, the Cornell Forensics Society hosted a public debate Tuesday questioning whether sororities and fraternities have done more harm than good for Cornell.

Moderated by members of the CFS, the debate featured two sides: a pro-Greek side whose members consisted of leadership within the Greek tri-council — the Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Letter Council — and an anti-Greek side that consisted of student leaders advocating campus inclusion and women’s issues.

While the anti-Greek side argued that the system exacerbates binge-drinking, sexual assault and exclusivity, the pro-Greek side argued that these issues are not exclusive to the Greek community.

“Cornell is really not reflective of the average Greek system,” said Alan Workman ’13, former executive vice president of IFC. “I would say the Greek system [at Cornell] is headed in an extremely positive direction.”

Workman said the Greek system and the leadership within it provide a means to regulate issues such as binge drinking and sexual assault that are prevalent on campus.

“The Greek system is the place where individuals can feel safer because of the leadership structure,” Workman said. Workman said the leadership structure within the Greek system assumes responsibility for the safety of its members at its events, a leadership structure that he says does not exist at other student-hosted parties.

The issue of diversity and inclusion within the Greek system was prevalent throughout the debate.

In response to the assertion that the Greek system is racially exclusive, Juan Carlos Toledo ’13, Tri-Council Liaison and a sports writer for The Sun, argued that the University, IFC and Panhellenic councils work to make the system as inclusive as possible.

While anti-Greek panelists argued that it is unfair that MGLC chapters do not have houses while IFC fraternities do, Toledo said the lack of housing was not a diversity issue, but an issue of a lack of strong alumni funding.

“MGLC fraternities and sororities are much younger. … Our alumni network is not large enough to permit for them to donate to us directly,” Toledo said. “[It’s not that] the current Cornell system is discriminating against these chapters. … The University is always opening up possibilities for funding [for the MGLC].”

Toledo, along with other speakers on the pro-Greek side, also stressed the leadership opportunities that being a part of the Greek system allowed him.

“I would not be the kind of leader or person that I know I am had I not become Greek,” he said.

In retaliation, Michelle Huang ’14 said while the pro-Greek side “tries to argue there is something unique about Greek membership that facilitates leadership … I think that leadership happens not because of Greek membership but in spite of it.”

Several issues were hotly debated, but the issue of exclusion remained the primary concern of the anti-Greek panel.

Although Workman and Carli Van Holmes ’14, president of the Panhellenic council, stressed that joining a Greek organization is a process of self-selection, Huang argued that the individuals who self-select to enter into the system usually fit a certain socioeconomic criteria.

“Females who feel that they cannot afford to buy the nice clothes that you need for rush simply don’t rush because they don’t feel like it’s a space where they belong,” she said. “The system is inherently exclusionary.”

The debate triggered several different responses from audience members, both Greek and non-Greek, elucidating that the issue continues to remain a controversial one.

Van Holmes stressed that the Greek community continues to make changes and improvements accordingly.

“The Cornell Greek community is incredibly open to dialogue and self improvement,” Van Holmes said.

Original Author: Sarah Sassoon