May 4, 2018

EDITORIAL | A First Step on Greek Life From President Pollack

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At long last, Martha Pollack.

After as turbulent a first year as one could imagine, President Pollack made her biggest splash yet on Cornell with the introduction of a whole host of Greek life reforms. The changes, which the administration will implement in four phases over the next three years, are far reaching and will no doubt elicit pushback from some in the Greek community, but they are a welcome step in the wake of yet another disturbing instance of unacceptable behavior by a Cornell fraternity.

Of the myriad reforms Pollack listed, the most notable is the creation of an online scorecard that will “include, among other things, the full judicial history of each chapter” at Cornell. Universities have short memories — the undergraduate community sees almost 100 percent turnover every four years, and in that continuous cycle, it can be easy to forget incidents that occurred just a short while ago. As a result, institutional and systemic issues, such as those that plague the Greek system, often go unresolved and unremembered. This scorecard, which Pollack claims will be well-publicized, will allow Cornellians to evaluate the Greek system with a scope far greater than four years. Hopefully, it will illuminate longer problematic trends that can go unnoticed when we limit our focus to one incident at a time.

Of the other reforms listed in the email, the one that has drawn the most attention is a ban on hard alcohol in residential chapter houses. While it is important to recognize the role alcohol (and access to alcohol) play in both hazing and another one of Greek life’s pervasive issues, sexual assault, banning hard alcohol from chapter houses seems ineffectual and potentially detrimental. Unless the University intends to employ a vice squad to patrol every room of every chapter house, the rule is likely unenforceable and at best will be ignored. At worst, it will prompt fraternities to host more off-site events, in Collegetown annexes or elsewhere, where they are subject to even less oversight.

As for the other items, they amount to a melange of reviews, overhauls and live-in advisors. All this has been tried before, in one way or another, to less-than-desirable effect. Will this time be different? It remains to be seen. We have a new president, but a very old university, and old habits have an old habit of dying hard.

The actions for which Sigma Nu was found guilty of are a stain on the Greek community and on Cornell. As more details emerge about that particular incident (nothing more than a brief statement has been released yet), it will become clear just how damaging hazing can be for those involved. Hazing can be reported confidentially online; it will only stop if it is brought to light. Cornell is not alone in this struggle, but it can be a model for the rest of the country, if it recognizes the flaws in its system and takes real measures to correct them. These reforms are a good first step.