May 3, 2017

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Cayuga’s Waiters Alumni respond to hazing allegations against on-campus group

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To the Editor:

On April 25, Cornell released its findings on allegations of hazing by members of Cayuga’s Waiters, Cornell’s oldest all-male a cappella group. The 321-member Waiter alumni community are appalled by the incidents described in the findings. Until these allegations were leveled, hazing was never part of Cayuga’s Waiters culture. Waiter alumni stand with Cornell in condemning hazing unequivocally.

Neither the on-campus group nor alumni dispute the finding that former members introduced hazing to Cayuga’s Waiters. In fact, any alumni member implicated in hazing has been expelled from the group and any alumni activities permanently.

The findings, however, tell only part of the story. Over a number of years, group members reached out to Cornell leaders directly through its official hazing reporting channels for help in changing group culture. Those requests went unanswered. Also, it’s important to remember that Waiters who were referred to the Office of the Judicial Administrator for discipline had themselves been the victims of hazing. Nonetheless, they were working in good faith with Waiters alumni and Cornell to turn around the group’s culture per the University Hearing Board’s initial sanction. Alumni were also petitioning Judicial Administrator Michelle Horvath, Interim President Hunter Rawlings III, and other administration leaders to work with Waiter alumni on a plan that would have allowed Cayuga’s Waiters to continue as an institution, with the active involvement and supervision of alumni under new governance documents and structures, and after a multi-year suspension. The proposed sanction is more severe than the one recommended by the UHB, but more forward-looking than the dismissal ordered by the University Review Board and endorsed by Interim President Rawlings.

Nonetheless, Waiter alumni stand by our hope to work with Cornell to raise awareness of the damage hazing can do to students and the Cornell community. We also hope to continue performing at Cornell Reunions, for alumni groups, and the general public. A short documentary titled “Old Men Singing” about alumni Waiters from the 1950s who perform every year at Reunions was released recently. It is an intimate look at the varied, deeply personal experiences that have been the true hallmark of the Cayuga’s Waiters experience at Cornell and thereafter.

Each Cayuga’s Waiters alumnus wants to thank the countless fans from across the decades for their encouragement and support during this difficult time. The main reason Cayuga’s Waiters exists is to celebrate the Cornell experience in song, and to make people happy along the way. While we hold out hope this is not how the song ends for Cayuga’s Waiters, we would like music, fun, and pride in the shared Cornell experience to be our lasting legacy.

 Nat Comisar ’81, on behalf of Cayuga’s Waiters Alumni Advisory Board