The Uncertainty of the Greek System

25 08 2010

Add-ons to email services are wonderful things. Right now, I mostly sit in my grad office all day doing work (the rare exceptions will be my grad classes and my TA work, neither of which actually start until Monday). My email is one of my few escapes. Anyways, on my four-accounts-feeding-to-one setup, I have a Cornell newsfeed. Today, one of the top stories was the proposed changes to the Greek System, which seek to drastically alter the social environment. Quoting the article, which came from the Daily Sun:

“…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.”

The intent is noble enough; to curtail underage drinking and prevent alcohol-related crime and illness. To someone in the Greek system though, it sounds a bit scary. Let’s acknowledge the not-so-secret fact that a substantial amount of publicity, and recruiting, comes from freshman visiting houses during parties, where alcohol is readily available. What other time are they going to learn about the houses before rush (and Greek Week doesn’t count because it is a collective show of Greek pride by all chapters at once)? Some are already bemoaning this latest act as the death of the Cornell Greek system (and some hope for as much).

First of all, it’s not. Cornell’s Greek system is much, much more  regulated than the chapters that exist at my grad school, which are basically like street gangs with Greek letters. The system may only limp forward, but it will persist.

Secondly, this isn’t the first time these plans have been espoused. In Scott Conroe’s book I Take Just Pride, one section details how in 1999, then-president Hunter Rawlings gave a speech to the Greek System where he espoused his belief that fully half of the houses on campus would likely close as a result of the execution of the Initiative and the establishment of a house system for upperclassmen. I have yet to see evidence that that has turned out to be the case. A similar intent was espoused by a residential initiative that Cornell launched in the late 1950s and 1960s (the goal there was to make small dorms that were like fraternities, but without all of the problems they cause).

Another date that Greeks were terrified of: December 31, 1985. It was the date the drinking age in New York State went from 18 to 21. In copies of the Daily Sun from 1985, fears were expressed that this would ruin the Greek System, for many of the same reason people fear the latest proposals. But, drinking went underground and everyone turned a blind eye. Kegs were banned from open parties after an alcohol-related death in 1989, but the Greek System still persisted.

Arguably, Cornell’s focus should be on a much larger scale. Fraternity parties are notorious for under-21 drinking, but it’s an issue kept behind closed doors. However, even more undiscussed are the house parties and club organizations, which are just as receptive to underage drinking. Sports teams, the Big Red Band, the Daily Sun, Glee Club…freshmen are going to drink one way or another. When the fraternities are prohibited, they’ll just migrate to the houses and private parties of Collegetown, which are mostly unregulated. I would suggest Cornell crack down on all organizations and do Collegetown foot patrols, but the thought of that is nothing short of Orwellian.

Do I see a whole lot coming from this? Not really. There will be much maneuvering, and some face laws, but I don’t see a whole lot of change occurring. Everyone is going to look for ways to let things slide under the radar once again. If it somehow turns out that the Greek System is incapacitated by the new rules, I suspect it will only take a little waiting and watching until other student organizations or even independent groups of people will step in to fill the void of underage drinking.



One response

26 08 2010

Good stuff all the way around. I was not a Greek at Cornell, but reading about this in the Sun and here pissed me off because the administration’s response is overbroad and treats young adults like children. I wrote a response on my own blog:

I also found a report dated 2001 (I think) that shows these actions are in no way novel. ( The relevant part is the top of page 17.

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