February 24, 2014

Four-Week New Member Period Decreases Hazing Violations

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The first four-week new member period for fraternities and sororities — which was shortened from six weeks in 2013 and eight weeks in 2012 — ended on Feb. 23, as new members were initiated into their respective chapters.

According to Travis Apgar, associate dean of students, it is too early to know the broader effects these changes will have on the Greek system, but there was a decrease in the number of hazing reports this year.

“Last year we saw an increase in the number of reports of hazing. This year we still have a number of reports that we’ve received across campus organizations, not just fraternities and sororities,” he said. “The number attached to fraternities and sororities is lower, especially as compared to last year, and there are very few cases where we can find any credibility as to what has been reported.”

Additionally, there have been no hazing reports this new member period related to alcohol, according to Apgar.

However, he said one chapter is still under review for possible alcohol violations unrelated to hazing.

According to Erika Whitestone ’15, president of the Cornell Panhellenic Association, while the new period was shorter than in previous years, it was still successful.

“Each chapter was able to teach their new members their history, tradition, as well as prepare them to become part of their sisterhoods,” Whitestone — who is also the Sun’s social media manager — said in an email.

However, according to Zach Benfanti ’16, vice president for membership for the Cornell Interfraternity Council, some in the greek community feel that a four-week process is too short and detracts from the positive aspects of the new member period.

“There’s been a lot of pushback from the Greek community as a whole. A lot of national chapters are basically saying that we cannot do this four-week period because there is not enough time to get everything done,” he said.

Benfanti also said that effects on new members after initiation must be taken into account prior to making judgments about the new period length.

“Honestly, the true test of the [student] safety will be this coming week, now that that new member education period is over,” he said. “It’s going to be really interesting to see how students respond given the four-week period and how much they really did learn over the course of that process.”

According to Apgar, the process of shortening the original 12-week new member period began in 2006, when he began working at Cornell.

“Even if you took away things that were maybe hazing related, like bad treatment — physically or mentally — and just looked at the time commitment and the length of the time, we heard a lot of feedback from students, parents and alumni saying that [12 weeks] was just too much,” he said.

There were concerns that the length of the new member period was hurting the academic performance of those joining Greek life, according to Apgar. He said when the period was still 12 weeks, the average grades of new members were lower than the average grades for other students.

These factors, along with consultations from student leaders, contributed to the decision to shorten the new member period, according to Apgar.

“We slowly and kind of quietly started to reduce the number of weeks,” Apgar said. “It was amazing because most people in the system never even realized we went from 12 weeks to 8 weeks over a few years.”

According to Apgar, another goal of the changes to the new member period is to improve the relationship between new members and those who have already been initiated into chapters.

“The power differential that exists between members and those who are aspiring to be members needs to change,” he said. “We know that a lot of times chapters are just doing unto the new members what had happened to them, and so we wanted to make sure [the process] was well-organized and well thought through.”

Additionally, chapters are now required to submit plans for their new member orientation processes, and articulate what they hope new members will gain from each activity planned, according to Apgar.

The creation of the Delta Series — a weekly program introduced this year that educates new members on issues such as hazing, alcohol and inclusion — was also beneficial to the new member period, according to Whitestone.

“The Delta Series helped new members have a safer experience by providing them with knowledge to succeed,” she said.