April 13, 2023

BERNSTEIN | Greek Life Doesn’t Know How Lucky It Is

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“Cornell is out to get us.” It’s a constant complaint I’ve heard throughout my years in Greek life at this school. Greek students and alumni consistently imagine that President Pollack is on their back, ready to swipe at any opportunity to do away with the system. One Guest Room Column published in the Cornell Daily Sun in the spring of 2020 likened President Pollack to a dictator for the reforms instituted in the previous Fall semester.

The statement, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Any target on the backs of Greek life and its members is painted. Greek Life is not at threat.

And it is worthy of reproach, in many ways. I of course have benefited from Greek life: I’ve made my best friends, I’ve met incredible people who I might never have met otherwise, I’ve expanded my professional network and I’ve had a lot of fun. I don’t have any regrets about my time with my fraternity, and I’m grateful for my experiences. But Greek life is a deeply flawed system founded on elitism and sexism, and still it often perpetuates prejudice. 

Take for instance, the incidents that occurred this fall. Multiple investigations regarding sexual assault and drug-laced drinks at Interfraternity Council Chapter related events occurred across campus, resulting in Cornell’s decision to halt all IFC events. Students know that the fall semester didn’t mark the beginning of rape culture in Greek life at Cornell, and as does the University: The 2019 Sexual Assault and Related Misconduct Survey found that an on-campus fraternity house was the most common location for a “most serious incident of nonconsensual sexual contact.”

Despite this — and despite incidents of hazing — Greek life gets by without any substantial punishments from Cornell. This can be seen in two ways. Firstly, Cornell continues to support Greek Life and help it grow. Secondly, its reforms, rules and regulations consistently make Greek Life’s issues worse, let alone provide for substantial change. 

The first point is simple. If the Cornell administration really cared about combatting Greek life, as is so often heard from Greeks, it wouldn’t be adding organizations — especially ones that had committed violations in the past. Three different IFC houses returned to Cornell in the Fall semester, all of which were recently removed because of hazing violations. Last Spring, Sigma Alpha Epsilon returned to campus after 10 years of being removed due to a hazing event that resulted in a student’s death. 

Furthermore, we can look again at the example of this fall semester: What were the results of the investigations? Five months later and we’ve seen nothing in terms of specific findings nor punishments. You don’t have to call for the abolition of Greek life as a whole (although you’d be within your right) to recognize how this is problematic.

The only steps moving forward that Cornell and IFC have communicated to Greek life members are a return to having parties, with some conditions that include event co-hosting requirements and further ConsentEd meetings (ConsentEd is a peer-to-peer education program designed to prevent sexual violence). A lot of these practices are great and important updates. They give sororities and their members more agency in the event-hosting process and entail more education on sexual misconduct and violence. But I think they still fall short of adequately addressing the incidents that occurred in the fall, which is too often routine for IFC rules. 

These leads to the second point: Greek life regulations can cause more harm than good. For example, I’ve always felt that IFC’s strict regulations around rush in recent years — such as having rush overlap with classes, when students are busy — limit the ability of fraternities to properly meet and even vet potential new members. In fact, this phenomenon sometimes encourages fraternities to host “dirty rush” events (essentially unallowed events not during scheduled periods) leading to more elitism and exclusivism in Greek life generally. 

Cornell and the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life can do more to properly respond to Greek-life-related crises and incidents. I don’t necessarily think Greek life should be abolished, but I do believe we have to firmly confront the role it plays in some tragic incidents that occur on campus. 

The truth is, we don’t really do that. Often hazing and sexual misconduct are given a slap on the wrist while Greek life members on campus claim that the school and President Pollack hate them.

I’ve thought much throughout my columnist career about writing this column. I’ve struggled, however, to put words on paper; it felt difficult to reconcile with my own role in Greek life and the timing never felt right. But coming to the end of time at Cornell — especially 5 months after the sexual misconduct events of the fall — I find it easy to say that Greek life at Cornell is doing just fine. It’s under no threat. It’s strong, and I anticipate it to stay that way for quite a while.

Daniel Bernstein (he/him) is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Feel the Bern runs alternate Thursdays this semester.