March 3, 2020

DELGADO | Shame Highlights Cornell Society

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Being pompous and egotistical is — undoubtedly — my biggest pet peeve. Yet, arrogance is often envied in our modern society. Today, there is a concerning amount of students who arrive at this Ivy League institution hovering afloat a cloud of sheer ignorance and selfishness. Even I had that attitude leading into my acceptance at Cornell. Unfortunately, many students have yet to leave that way of thinking behind. Current collegiate atmospheres supposedly value inclusion and tolerance; however, it has shown to be rather unmerciful to those that have different philosophies, ultimately hindering them for not “fitting in” with the general crowd.

Being awash in moral judgment has plagued the attendees of Cornell. This is especially a problem in student-run social and professional organizations.

If you go to Cornell, you’ll hear a whole lot of heinous things about these organizations. You might hear about how your friend cried because she heard members of a social sorority making fun of her Old Navy coat during the grueling rush process. Or maybe you know a peer who was rejected from their dream professional fraternity because their resume wasn’t formatted up to their arbitrary standards. And you might learn about how minorities feel as though they’re simply wanted as a token — a mode for groups to avoid facing the scrutiny of a lack of diversity. Did not enough marginalized individuals show up for rush? Obviously they don’t feel comfortable in a white-washed, judgemental society.

Greek organizations at Cornell could, indeed, have the potential to improve social and academic life on campus. At this moment, however, these professional and social institutions are failing to do that.

On Dec. 5, 1776, the first Greek institution was founded at William and Mary College. This group — and those established after — sought to develop strong bonds between their members and encourage personal growth and development. These organizations often had special traditions that brought members together and promoted loyalty, friendship, community service, intellectual achievements and leadership. Philanthropy became a pillar in many of these groups, and they often were large players in their local communities.

But to what extent are these values still upheld in Greek organizations today?

To put it frankly, current Greek culture — at least for those in social fraternities — places more emphasis ripping bongs and drinking Keystone Lite than it does on anything else. Certainly not all members of Greek Life, or even all Greek organizations, think or act in this manner. But given the the system’s track record in the last couple decades, it’s only fair to say that the negative aspects of Greek Life outweigh the positive ones.

The reality of endemic sexual misconduct and death can never be ameliorated by philanthropy. Can you really justify forcing physicality onto people who don’t reciprocate through the occasional fundraiser? Are the deaths of students made somehow tolerable just because Greek organizations have the potential to teach their members life skills?

The reality is that the Greek system has morphed into one that shames those that engage with it. This even holds true for professional Greek chapters. Over my time at Cornell, I have been rejected from a number of professional fraternities. But I don’t mind being rejected; it is quite humbling to learn after a life full of acceptance that not every kid can walk into the playhouse with their shoes on. Instead, what I mind are the impulsive decisions made by these organizations over attributes and personality traits. Walking into second round interview rooms full of hostility and angst is a jarring experience. And making prospective members question their worth is abysmal.

And shame culture is not just a problem in Greek Life; there are clubs on this campus that shame members in manners that take us right back to the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m bullying some of us experienced back in middle school. People on this campus shame peers for studying something they love because they believe it’s too easy. People on this campus even scold their homework partners. Perpetual insecurity in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion plagues everyone.

Today, permanent standards don’t exist, just the shifting fancy of the crowd — a culture built on oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, in which everybody feels compelled to go along.

It’s time that we re-evaluate shame culture on this campus. We, as students, need to band together to make this experience manageable and rewarding for all. This world can hurt you and cut deep, but we should all bleed red in the name of camaraderie, not social injustice.

Instead of shaming each other, we should shame those who monetize our educational dreams. We should shame those who hide behind government personnel to terrorize the general public for their own benefit. We should shame those who refuse to adapt to modern society and inject their toxic racist, homophobic and xenophobic views into our communities. As global citizens, what we should shame is rather simple: not wanting to be better than we were yesterday. When we are able to make this culture shift, together we will metamorphose into something greater.


Canaan Delgado is a junior in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]. No Church in the Wild runs alternate Wednesdays this semester.