October 8, 2013

Travis Apgar Says He’s ‘Advocate’ for Greek System

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He is the administrator students criticize for shortening new member periods and the man they blame if their fraternity is placed on probation — but Associate Dean of Students Travis Apgar, a fraternity man himself, says his role is to support the Greek system while keeping fraternity and sorority members’ best interests in mind.

“I have a general sense that those students who don’t know me have a perspective that I’m the guy who punishes fraternities and sororities. … For the most part, they see me as a disciplinarian,” Apgar said. “But those who know me see that I’m really here as the advocate.”

Apgar said any changes to policies regarding Greek life are aimed at keeping chapters’ actions in line with their national philosophies. “I don’t even really like to look at it as we’re reforming so much as we’ve identified where there could be some work done around some activities that are inconsistent with what groups say they’re about,” Apgar said.

Apgar, who was hazed both as a fraternity pledge and a member of a college football team, said although his experiences did not lead him into his profession, they do shape his decisions when dealing with reports of hazing. “It certainly plays a role in how I face challenges because I have a real life appreciation for the harm hazing can cause, physically or mentally,” he said.

Although some people thought stricter rules would “ruin the Greek system,” Apgar said a higher percentage of freshmen have been pledging fraternities and sororities in recent years. “None of it is meant to be a crackdown — what we’re trying to do is create an environment where people can become members through mutual respect in ways that are hazing free and not alcohol-fueled,” Apgar said.

Apgar also said hazing prevention is necessary not just within the Greek community, but also in all campus activities. On Sept. 19, the men’s lacrosse team was placed on suspension for the remainder of the season for hazing allegations.

“The next step is to take what we’ve done in Greek life and make sure we address this issue across campus, making sure we have a consistent manner in which we hold organizations to a standard,” Apgar said. If an organization is suspected to be hazing any of its members, the investigation process is thorough and collaborative, according to Apgar.

“There is a very wide misunderstanding that I am attached to the difficult decisions around consequences, but in reality, I am thankfully never the person who makes a decision on his own,” Apgar said.

Since 2011, 21 organizations representing the Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council, Multicultural Greek Letter Council and Cornell Athletics have been found guilty of hazing, with penalties ranging from temporary probationary status to five-year suspension, according to hazing.cornell.edu.

The hazing punishments are intended to help each chapter operate in a more “healthy and productive manner,” Apgar said. “I think the system’s philosophy is to be educational, not punitive, in nature … the goal is to reform their behavior and rectify any issues,” he said.

Apgar said it was “remarkable” how much positive change has occurred with the number of alcohol-related incidents involving first-year Greeks. Apgar also said there are several potential valuable aspects of Greek life — including self-governance, a family away from family and a feeling of brotherhood or sisterhood.

“It was the positive experiences I had in between the bad experiences that make me a believer in Greek life,” he said. Apgar said he tries to help fraternities and sororities revamp the pledge process to a program more similar to an orientation.

“There are lots of proven effective methods for creating bonding opportunities for members of organizations that are much less risk [than hazing], much more positive in nature and are in alignment with the values of the community and the organization,” Apgar said.

Apgar said some of the changes to Greek life were in response to the death of George Desdunes ’13, a former Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother who died in February 2011 after a night of hazing and alcohol consumption.

“We’d like to think that it shouldn’t have taken that to wake up the community … but since then, we have done a great deal within the community of student leaders and organizations promoting an idea of what an orientation process should look like — free from things that would harm you mentally and physically,” Apgar said.

Apgar said his attempts to preserve the Greek system are to make the experience continue “for the next 150 years or even longer.” “I think that I’m a pretty honest guy and that I have very positive thoughts and viewpoints of the student experience overall — particularly the fraternity and sorority experience,” Apgar said. “But at same time, to be able to keep that experience and all that’s good about it, we have some challenges we need to work on.”