March 13, 2018

GUEST ROOM | Reforming the Greek System Before We Throw it Away

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Correction appended.

This Guest Room column is in response to the Guest Room column “Gone With Greek Life, for Good.”

I came to Cornell with no intention of joining Greek life. The majority of my high school class went on to universities that seemed more focus on football and frat parties than education. I heard countless stories about Greek life that I wanted no part in.

After spending my first semester here I began to think, “Who am I to assert generalized preconceived notions on a group of thousands of people?” Is that not exactly why I claimed to despise the system?

I decided to go through the recruitment process before I placed any overarching judgment on the entire Cornell Greek community. Blocking out any commentary about reputations or tier-systems, I went through the process and actually found homes in which, to my surprise, I met other proud people of color, and homes where I met other LGBT students who felt accepted by their sisters.

When I received my bid, I made a promise to myself. If I was going to accept my letters and the history that came with them, I would dedicate my time in sorority life to help reform the Greek system for the better.

I knew I was joining a broken system which has a history of exclusive practices, and still carried on those practices to some extent. I did not join my sorority content with the current state of the entire Greek system. I joined with the motivation to change the institutional discrimination. I ultimately decided that this would be a more effective method of promoting diversity, than dismissing every member of the community as a bigoted elitist.

Believe it or not, there is another organization, in which we are all a part of, that also has a parallel history to that of our Greek community. It’s called the United States.

I wear my letters as proudly as I would hold an American flag. I am appreciative of the community and the opportunity that the association provides for me, but I am not blind to the history and the current necessity for change.

Greek life serves so many purposes within our University. Cornell is a massive institution that can be incredibly overwhelming for any student, unlike other schools of about a few thousand students in which Greek life has been banned. Williams has a population of 2,000 students, Colby has 1,879 students, Middlebury has 2,532 students and Bowdoin has 1,816 students, but Cornell has a student population of 21,904.

To put that into perspective, Cornell’s student population can fit the combined populations 0f Williams, Colby, Middlebury and Bowdoin almost three times over.

On top of being a great outlet for public service, my sorority is a home for me. Unlike other types of organizations on campus, fraternities and sororities are not centered around one interest, one major or one belief-system. Rather, it is a place where students who might have otherwise never crossed paths can build lifelong friendships.

The fact of the matter is that issues like racism and heteronormativity are not a product of the system, they are a product of society, they are a product of the state of or nation. Ending Greek life will not end discrimination; it will not stop classism, racism, homophobia or sexism. However, the Greek community of Cornell can serve as a starting point for reform policies to become more inclusive.

We have to permanently remove houses that practice discriminatory selection processes and cruel hazing rituals. We need to permanently remove the individuals who spew hate speech and assault others. These are rules that should be followed with absolutely no lenience. We are still here witnessing these incidences over and over again because zero-tolerance policies are not being enforced.

I am a member of the Greek community, but I refuse to be complicit in the exclusionary practices and discriminatory actions of others within my community. In the community, I have met a diverse array of passionate students and I hope through efforts to change the system rather than dismantle it, this community can evolve to become a more diverse and inclusive space for students that might have never met otherwise.

The administration needs to stop brushing these incidents under the rug. Instead, We all need to acknowledge the history and address the problems. We need to hear university administrators and Greek leadership say, yes this has happened, this is our problem, and now this is what we are doing to fix it.

As a first-generation American, I have similar sentiments towards my American citizenship as I do my Greek affiliation. I am ashamed of the hateful incidents that have occured. I may be disappointed by the leadership that has been chosen. I do not agree with every decision of every member of the Greek community just like I do not agree with every decision of every resident of our country. However, I am still here, and I am not giving up on our future. I am trying to help shape it.

I will be honest, I have considered leaving because I am so horrified by the detestable actions of others. Sometimes I wonder if enough reform can be accomplished to change the current campus climate. I am holding on in hopes that the leadership of the University and the community can come together to not only stop Greek life from being harmful, but also make it helpful in promoting inclusion. I look at my letters and I am reminded of words my parents always tell me about my citizenship, “This is an opportunity, it is not perfect, but be grateful and if you see something broken, fix it yourself.”

Correction: This column originally stated that the undergraduate student population is 21,904, which is, in fact, the total student population, including graduate and professional students.

Lissie Elorza is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and a member of Kappa Delta Sorority. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically.