In response to the recent suspension of Sigma Nu and other allegations of “extremely disturbing” hazing on-campus, President Martha E. Pollack announced a set of reforms to Greek letter organizations in an email to the Cornell community on Friday.
The reforms — which include the removal of hard alcohol from all residential chapter houses to an online scorecard that will be updated annually with a chapter’s judicial proceedings — are meant to “elevate behavioral expectations” among members of Greek life, Pollack said in her email.
While recognizing the “long history” that Greek life has had on campus, the president said the current behavior in the community has gone from “innocent fun” to “extremely coercive, demeaning, sexually inappropriate and physically dangerous activities that jeopardize students’ health and lives.”
Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life, will play a major role in implementing Pollack’s decisions. According to him, the reforms serve as a “blueprint” to improve Greek culture on campus.
“It’s really important, the history that Greek life has at Cornell — we have to work together to implement these measures to make sure it can thrive in the years to come,” Lombardi said in an interview with The Sun.
Pollack’s reforms will have several phases of implementation. These range from measures that will be effective immediately to those that will be incorporated as late as fall 2021.
The changes that are effective immediately include chapters being suspended and losing recognition in cases of “substantiated hazing.” A minimum of three years will be applied for those cases that include coerced alcohol or other drug consumption, sexual and related misconduct, or other forms of violence or mentally abusive behavior that poses a threat to health and safety, according to the email.
The practice of reporting allegations of hazing to the Office of the Judicial Administrator to pursue “individual accountability” will continue in a manner consistent with what is currently practiced.
Also effective immediately is a ban on all hard alcohol (more than 30 percent alcohol by volume) in residential chapter houses at any time.
By fall 2018, each Greek chapter is required to submit a new member education plan for next year’s recruitment, and current members will also have to participate in mandatory education programming to participate in the new-member intake process.
This set of reforms to new member education will be adding on to revisions that were created following incidents of racial and ethnic bias related to the Greek community last fall.
For this year’s recruitment, the Greek Tri-Council reformed the “Delta Series” of new member education to include training regarding “diversity, mental health, and hazing.” The Sun learned from several participants in the program, on the condition of anonymity, that the reformed series this spring was “not helpful.”
When Lombardi was questioned about how he thinks the new member education plans this time around will be any different from the ones that were recently implemented, he said that the programs implemented this semester were compiled on a “quick timeline” to ensure a response to last fall’s events as quickly as possible.
He does have hope, however, that the new set of educational programs will create a “cultural change.” They will also be updated yearly to make sure that the material remains relevant and improves the experience.
“Everything that happens might not be a home run, it might not be perfect the first time its offered, but you have to start somewhere,” Lombardi said. “And eventually you build programs that will be sustainable in the long run.”
By fall 2018, there will also be a systemwide online scorecard that will keep a record of every chapter’s judicial history. Lombardi confirmed that this would be limited to only currently recognized chapters on campus, and the scorecard will be updated annually rather than in real-time.
The next phase of reforms targets spring 2019, which is when all leadership positions in residential chapter houses have to be held by junior or senior students who reside in the house. Currently any member who resides in the house, irrespective of class year, can hold a leadership position.
During the same semester, Pollack also expects a full review of the process used by the Chapter Review Board, the body which governs the recognition for fraternities and sororities.
The phased reforms outlined in the email go up to fall 2021, which is when each fraternity and sorority house is expected to have a full-time live-in adviser with “clearly stated objectives and expectations for the role.”
“I do not take these steps lightly. The stakes are high,” Pollack said in her email. “The student experience today is different from what it was in the past; community expectations have shifted; and behavior around hazing must change, too.”
The last phased set of reforms to Greek life were announced in 2012 by then-President David Skorton following the death of George Desdunes ’13 in an alcohol-related hazing incident in Sigma Alpha Epsilon. The fraternity’s recognition was revoked by the University and their house now serves as an undergraduate residential hall.
In the reforms introduced then, Skorton had challenged the Cornell community to “end pledging as we know it.” However, not all of the elements of the reforms were implemented, and the recommendations stopped short of full implementation, according to the University.
Despite this, Lombardi did not view the previous set of reforms as a “failure.”
“I think it really started a very important conversation on our campus and a heightened level of awareness,” he said.
While the current set of reforms tackles hazing in social Greek letter organizations, Lombardi said he looks forward to combating hazing “holistically” — and is looking to eventually include pre-professional fraternities, co-ops and living centers within the educational programs.
The Board of Trustees also issued a unanimous statement of support for the reforms announced by the president, calling hazing and related behavior a “stain on that legacy” of Greek life at Cornell.
More than 4,500 students — nearly one-third of Cornell’s undergraduate population — belong to one of 63 chapters on campus, according to the University. Cornell’s fraternity and sorority community dates back to autumn 1868, just a few months after the University was first set up.