February 4, 2016

GUEST ROOM | Greek Life: Where Do We Go From Here?

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Before I get into all this I’d like to throw out a disclaimer about who I am, where I’m from and where I am — specifically where I am as I write this, which happens to be a room with a ceiling painted to look like the album artwork from the Dark Side of the Moon. My feet are propped up on a coffee table on top of which are a plethora of half empty Keystones, a water pitcher turned bong and a two-day-old copy of The Wall Street Journal still wrapped up in plastic and tied by a rubber band.

By the powers of deduction and readily apparent typecasts, one would not be so alarmed to find out that this room is one of many similarly charming rooms clustered together in a manor-like estate where a bunch of twenty year old males run around doing twenty year old male things. Yes I’m talking about a frat, and yes I am one of those twenty year olds running around in it. I’m sure that “f” word triggered an immediate image of who I am and the dimensions — or lack thereof — comprising my individuality, and I won’t lie,  sometimes I fit snugly into that image, but for the most part I’d like to think that my persona extends beyond the stereotypical.

For the purposes of thought provocation and impartiality, I’d like to ask you to siphon off some open-mindedness for the remainder of this article while at the same time taking my position into consideration. My intent is not to preach a pro or anti Greek life manifesto, but rather to express some concerns I have with a system of which I happen to be a part of and raise some questions about its future and role in the college community.

Problems exist within Greek Life and the way in which it is regarded — that’s a fact. These problems are perpetuated by the actions of some of those within the Greek community as well as some of those outside of it. It’s a two-way street of negativity that leaves little room for progression. It is my opinion that choosing to chastise a community without full acknowledgement of or empathy for its existence outside of its problems does as much damage to the community as the problems themselves. Rape culture, hazing and various forms of segregation are real issues that still fester in the dark recesses of the Greek community, but it seems as if the shinning aspects of Greek life and what it provides for kids my age have taken a backseat in popular social discourse.

In terms of trying to tackle and confront these issues, our Greek system here at Cornell is leagues ahead of most other schools, and I believe these efforts presented by the Greek community have opened many promising doors. However, these efforts have come at the expense of kicking off, suspending and policing various chapters, which has resulted in the destruction of a number of college students’ chances to fully participate in the positive experiences that Greek life has to offer before it even begins.

I’m not saying these punishments are ineffective or even unwarranted, but often times when a chapter is reprimanded as such there are many young men and women that end up losing out on a potentially rewarding, memorable and unique college experience because of the actions of their peers. This is all beside the point because the fact of the matter is that these issues within the Greek system still haven’t gone away, and in order for them to do so it requires action and understanding on the part of the entire campus.

Over the next couple weeks each new member of every chapter of every Greek house at Cornell is required to attend a series of informative seminars called the Delta Series. The purpose of these seminars is to teach, advise and warn members of the Greek community about issues like sexual assault, hazing and diversity. This is a fine example of the encouraging efforts put in place by Greek organizations and I think it is an absolute necessity for promoting change, but within my short time at Cornell I have already witnessed a chapter under investigation for hazing allegations, and within this past week I’ve seen another chapter reported and suspended for a sexual assault case. That’s a problem. It doesn’t matter in either of these cases whether or not the accusations were actual occurrences. It’s a problem not only for the chapters or even the Greek community as whole; it’s a problem for the administrators, the school and in turn, the entire student body.

As a member of the Greek Community it is disheartening to see the lives, reputations and communal accomplishments of outstanding individuals tarnished because of the actions of a dumb, ignorant few. As a human being, it is even more disheartening to see a school with such a high pedigree have its students involved in such issues regardless of the specific organization the students of the university belonged to.

So where does that leave us? What does the future hold for the Greek system? Is there even a future to be had? For some there’s a simple answer: no, we don’t need it. For others it’s not that simple. I think it’s necessary to evaluate what it means to be Greek in this day and age, and whether or not it is possible to entirely eliminate expansive social issues by dissolving a community that has been pigeonholed as a source of these issues.

A.J. Rodriguez is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.