Greek life at Cornell has evolved throughout the history of the University, inspiring camaraderie and controversy, and continues to play a profound role in the lives of students today.

Courtesy of Cornell University

Greek life at Cornell has evolved throughout the history of the University, inspiring camaraderie and controversy, and continues to play a profound role in the lives of students today.

February 27, 2019

Spring Rush Numbers Hit 4-Year Low as Retention Rates Hit 2-Year Peak

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The spring 2019 recruitment period saw the lowest number of participants in four years for both the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council. But the retention rate for new members — the percentage of people who joined a Greek organization having attended rush week — also reached a four-year high for fraternities and a two-year high for sororities.

This year, Greek life saw a 22 percent decline in fraternity rush participants — 556 this year, down from last year’s 717, according to data provided to The Sun by Kara Miller, director of fraternity and sorority life. Sororities also experienced a 16 percent drop in rush participants — 645 people, down from last year’s 768.

As the number of participants declined, the percentage of people who ended up joining a Greek house rose. The retention rate for spring 2019 was 84 percent for fraternities and 74 percent for sororities, up from 67 and 73 percent, respectively, from the previous year.

Recent policies implemented by university administration could explain the decline in fraternity rush numbers, according to IFC Executive Vice President of Recruitment Nick Smith ’20, arts writer for The Sun.

“I think we talked a lot of [the decline] up to it being the first year after the administration implemented a number of new rules,” Smith told The Sun in an interview. “They were certainly well-warranted but this was the first year in which to be an eligible potential new member you had to attend training sessions in the fall.”

Individuals interested in spring rush for fraternities had to attend two mandatory informational meetings — a general meeting and an intervene training seminar on sexual assault — which were held sporadically from October through early December.

Smith said that such meetings were necessary, given recent hazing incidents in the Greek community, which led to the university revoking its official recognition of both the Sigma Nu fraternity and the Delta Phi fraternity.

“In my opinion… it’s good we’re sending the message to potential new members that if they want to be a part of our community, they should be active bystanders in situations involving alcohol or potential sexual assault,” said Maya Cutforth ’20, Panhellenic Council president.

However, Smith expressed concerns that requiring individuals to attend mandatory meetings so soon in the semester might have deterred many from deciding to return for rush week.

“We are … trying to get that back to a place in which we can still have the training sessions — they are certainly very important and necessary — but do them in a way that’s not forcing the decision to join Greek life so early into the year,” Smith said. “What we are afraid of is that having those training sessions so early will give people a month to decide if they want to join the Greek system.”

Cutforth, on the other hand, said that there could perhaps be other reasons that dissuaded individuals from joining Greek life.

“It could be a number of factors: more hazing stories nationally, people putting Greek life under a different lens, these could all have affected it,” Cutforth told The Sun. “I don’t think there is a singular answer for any of this. [PHC] does surveys for why people decided to drop out of recruitment and we got varied answers.”

Both Smith and Cutforth noted that there had been a make-up training session during the start of rush week for individuals who had missed the sessions in the fall.

However, the make-up meeting had not been widely advertised as leadership did not want too many people to rely on having the extra session as a fallback for participating in regular training, Cutforth said.

“In terms of resources, it’s really hard to keep on doing the same training over and over again,” she said.

Many individuals who decide to come for rush week aren’t entirely set on joining the Greek system, Smith said, noting that he himself was not sure if Greek life was for him when he first joined.

“In general, it’s a fairly objective thing to say that the sentiment around Greek life right now is not in a good spot,” he said. “Saying Greek life is doing badly because PR is bad makes it sound as though we are not deserving of some of that bad PR.”

Cutforth expressed similar sentiments, stating that, “nationally, Greek life is facing different challenges, and I think that’s reasonable — people are concerned about hazing and diversity efforts.”

She mentioned how incidents such as members of the Zeta Psi fraternity chanting “build a wall” near the Latino Living Center and “underground” members of the Psi Upsilon fraternity allegedly assaulting a student due to his race contributed to people shying away from Greek life.

Despite these incidents, Smith remains hopeful for the future of the Greek community and mentioned upcoming changes that would further improve on those issues.

“We’re changing the way we do [the] President’s Council, we’re having more meetings with the IFC [executive board] and new member educators to try and work out problems with stuff that a chapter might not consider hazing but that as the IFC we know Cornell would,” he said.

Cutforth said that PHC changes are also in the works, which will be proposed sometime in March.