University Cracks Down on Drinking in Greek System
By Brendan Doyle and Michael Linhorst
Citing student safety and a need to change the culture of the Greek system, the University informed Greek student leaders Tuesday that they must implement - in no less than two years - some sweeping changes to how they run their fraternities and sororities. As a condition of receiving University recognition, Greek organizations will have to bar freshman from attending parties with alcohol and eliminate alcohol completely from their recruitment and pledging activities. Chapters will also face stiffer penalties for hazing under the new rules.
“Things like hazing or alcohol are not healthy experiences in becoming a fraternity man or sorority woman,” said Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, as he laid out the changes during a meeting on Tuesday of student leaders from across the Greek system. “We want to make sure the [Greek] experience remains relevant, and to do that we have to have a culture change.”
“We spend a very large amount of time … every year dealing with the problems in our system,” including judicial issues and the fallout from those issues, Apgar said. The changes are intended to create “a truly safer system,” he said.
Apgar emphasized that the planned changes and their 2012-2013 school year deadline are “not negotiable.”
However, the University is allowing Greek student leaders to decide on a timeline for the gradual implementation of the changes.
According to a proposed Interfraternity Council schedule , the first change will be the prohibition of “alcohol-centered Thanksgiving dinners” this fall. In January 2011, the first day of fraternity rush will be alcohol-free and the IFC will hold an event to “aid in values-based recruitment.” After rush week, there will be no mixers - parties between one fraternity and one sorority - that involve alcohol for three weeks. For the remaining five weeks of the new member education process, informally known as pledging, each sorority can have two mixers each week.
Starting in the fall of 2011, freshmen will not be allowed to attend any fraternity parties in the second half of the fall semester. Three days of rush week during January 2012 will be dry. Mixers will be prohibited for the first six weeks of the new member process, and each sorority can have two mixers a week for the remaining two weeks.
Finally, in fall 2012, freshmen will be prohibited from all fraternity parties that involve alcohol. In January 2013, the entire rush week will be alcohol free. Social events between fraternities and sororities that involved alcohol will be prohibited during all eight weeks before new members are initiated.
“Clearly, you’re going to have to recruit in a very different way,” Apgar told the Greek leaders at the meeting on Tuesday. “You’re going to have to reimagine the recruiting process.”
Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’69, who was also involved in creating the new rules, said that trying to curb underage drinking and alcohol abuse is “a safety issue, not a moral issue.”
“We are trying to be preventative and proactive” in avoiding tragedy and promoting the health and safety of students, he said.
Hubbell emphasized that the more stringent regulations are part of a broader, University-wide initiative to deal with alcohol abuse. He said that the Universtiy’s previous efforts to combat this problem have been met with “mixed results.” Other efforts currently underway in addition to the Greek system changes include an enhanced parental notification policy  and more collaboration between the Ithaca Police Department and Cornell University Police Department on enforcement of drinking laws.
Several of the Greek leaders at the meeting spoke out against the changes, noting that recruitment could suffer and that years of tradition and culture would be changed. The executive board members of the IFC emphasized that they were simply handed a mandate, and expected to create a timeline for the goals to take place.
“The changes that are going to happen were not our idea at all,” said Interfraternity Council President Allen Miller ’11. “We’ve spent so much time trying to argue with the administration … We’re at a point where we know things aren’t negotiable.”
Beyond the substance of the new changes, some Greek leaders said they were also displeased that the University had contradicted the Greek system’s tradition of self-governance.
Others, like Panhellenic Council President Nora Allen ’11 noted that the changes could be a valuable opportunity to put a positive face on a Greek system plagued by stereotypes of debauchery and illegality.
“People who join the Greek system are social and outgoing. They want that experience,” Allen said. “The people who are attracted to that are always attracted to that. With the dry process, we might attract the people who were originally deterred from the Greek system because of the way we are perceived on campus.”
Allen added that alternative opportunities to meet potential recruits in an alcohol-free environment are part of the planning process for the changes.
“What we’re doing is providing other opportunities for Greek women to meet freshmen girls,” Allen said of the future of recruitment in the sorority system.
University administrators said they had not yet decided how to logistically keep freshman from attending open parties and mixers. The IFC’s proposed implementation plan suggests providing “ID scanners or similar technology to chapters registering open parties” that check the student IDs of every attendee.
During the Tuesday meeting, Apgar said the changes were intended only to increase safety and promote values in the Greek system.
“We’re not trying to create a dry system. We’re not trying to close any fraternities or sororities. We’re not trying to shrink the system,” Apgar said.
Apgar said the changes could even lead to growth in the Greek system.
“This gives us an opportunity to sell ourselves” in a way that we’ve never done before, he said. He later added that he hoped to see new forms of recruitment other than alcohol-focused events.
“I’d love to see our chapters doing other creative recruitment opportunities,” Apgar said.
The changes come as amendments to the University’s recognition policy for Greek chapters. The policy is an agreement between the chapters and the University that allows chapters to operate at the University if they follow the policy’s restrictions. If the restrictions are not obeyed, the University can revoke a chapter’s recognition.
“To have recognition revoked is essentially what happens when we want to close a chapter,” Apgar said.
The IFC Executive Board had initially proposed an alternative plan to appease the worries of the administration while still maintaining what they saw as the Greek system’s traditional culture. According to Apgar, that plan was well thought-out, but administrators ultimately rejected it because it did not provide for a dry recruitment.
Also emphasized in the University’s three-tiered plan is a zero-tolerance policy for hazing, an issue which has previously been the subject of controversy on campus. Apgar said that hazing sanctions will be harsher, although he said the exact specifics of penalties will be determinded, along with the rest of the timeline for changes, in the coming months.
A forum will be held on Sept. 8 to allow students and administrators to discuss the changes. The forum will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Willard Straight Hall.
Michael Stratford contributed reporting to this story.
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