October 20, 2013

Facing Tighter Restrictions, Cornell Fraternities Adapt Longstanding Traditions

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With the University imposing tighter restrictions on Greek houses in an effort to rein in hazing and dangerous behaviors, fraternity leaders say they have had to make adjustments to longstanding Greek traditions.

After George Desdunes ’13 died in a fraternity hazing ritual in 2011, the University enacted a series of policies aimed to “end pledging as we know it,” The Sun previously reported.

One of the biggest changes made to Greek life since then has been the shortening of the new member period, which used to be eight weeks but is now four, according to Felix Tabary ’14, IFC vice president for university and community relations.

Tabary said that some aspects of fraternity life — including encouraging new members to properly clean the physical house and instilling a sense of respect for older brothers — are “harder to translate with the new new member education process.”

Other fraternity brothers, like Timothy Lenardo ’14, president of the Sigma Phi fraternity, say they think it is probably too early to see any major effects of the shortened pledge period. “Many fear that people will be less committed to the house, as they have put little to nothing into being accepted. Additionally, our pledge classes are always diverse groups of guys from dramatically different parts of campus, and some argue that pledging is the ‘shared experience’ that bring them together,” Lenardo said.

Tabary said his fraternity, Sigma Pi, received help in adapting its new member process with the help of a strong alumni network. He said he is unsure, however, of whether every fraternity has the resources necessary to do the same.

“The University can do a better job of counseling new member educators about how to teach things in a safer way. That would go such a long way,” Tabary said.

IFC President Colin Foley ’14 said new member education plans are best looked at on a chapter-by-chapter basis because some fraternities would prefer to do it on their own using a strong alumni base or national fraternity organization.

“Our tradition is to be a governing body, but they’re individual chapters, so it can be tough to apply things broadly throughout system,” Foley said.

Foley said the IFC remains supportive by keeping an open dialogue between fraternities to share ideas.

“I think we’ve engaged in a much more open and honest conversation with fraternity presidents,” Tabary said.

The IFC will also be revamping its event management guidelines for fraternities this semester to make sure they are in line with University policies, according to Tabary.

The event management guidelines are only part of what Foley called a “broader strategic review” of how the IFC will be updating “antiquated and outdated” policies to make them more in line with the beliefs of chapters.

Tabary said he hopes to be able to provide a small binder to every fraternity with the new guidelines to communicate the ideas clearly.

Lenardo said that although he would not complain about event guidelines being “unclear,” adhering to the current rules can be “very difficult and stressful.”

Still pending is the Recruitment, Acceptance, Retention and Education task force’s proposal to require live-in advisors in every fraternity and sorority house, according to Foley.

Foley said he has been speaking with fraternity presidents to draft an IFC recommendation in response to the task force’s suggestion.

The IFC recommendation would not suggest mandatory live-in advisors for houses who currently comply with IFC guidelines, according to Foley.

“Our stance is that there is already organic mentorship within the system. If fraternities are meeting that [criterion], then they’re complying. Otherwise, there may be a problem to address,” Foley said.

Foley said he believes the Greek system is still “extremely strong” due to an increasing number of students rushing.

“I think we’ve had traditions in place for a long time that people are making big changes to, so it’s not going to be a seamless process,” Foley said. “It’s obviously going be difficult, but I have faith in the chapter presidents to do what’s necessary.”

Despite the changes to Greek life that have been enforced by the University, Foley said fraternities are starting to adjust and reach a point of normalcy.

“Pretty soon, we’ll be in a place where the system is sustainable and the University won’t feel that major policy changes need to be made,” Foley said.