Feb. 21, 2013
Summit examines state of Greek life on campus
A major challenge facing Cornell’s Greek life is to strengthen its commitment to behaviors showing respect and dignity while shifting away from behaviors that are antithetical to fraternity and sorority basic principles, said administrators at “The State of the Greek Community,” the opening event of the A.D. White Greek Leadership Annual Summit, held Feb. 15-17 on campus.
With 63 chapters, Cornell boasts one of the largest Greek systems in the country.
“Greek life has been part of our history literally since the day we opened our door,” said Susan Murphy ’73, Ph.D. ’94, vice president for student and academic services, who noted that fraternities provided the first housing for students.
Despite its strengths and contributions, such as the opportunity for student self-governance and extensive community service, the Greek system still faces major challenges, said Kent Hubbell, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students.
“While the Greek community is diverse, it is not as diverse as the campus at large, so it does have a tendency to interact in a way that counteracts our mission to create a diverse and inclusive student community on campus,” he said.
Several years ago, Hubbell added, “We [also] noticed that in Greek life, especially amongst associate and new members, there was a pattern of academic underperformance ... and that members of the Greek community consumed twice as much alcohol twice as often as their non-Greek peers. ... We must shift the Greek system away from the highly stereotypical behaviors that have become associated with Greek life.”
For the past several years, students, administrators and Greek alumni – for whom this special summit was created as a complement to the annual A.D. White Leadership Conference – have made concerted efforts to boost awareness, transparency and communication among students and Greek organizations, noted the speakers.
For example, “The Greek community is committed to increasing transparency, for a number of reasons, which include providing chapters the opportunity to learn from one another’s mistakes,” said Travis Apgar, the Robert G. Engel Associate Dean of Students. “A learning tool we all use to guide our decision making.”
Greek alumni, they said, have also been particularly instrumental in engineering change. “[Students] listen to [alumni] more than they listen to us,” Apgar said.
He noted that this spring, a new initiative – One Greek Cornell Experience – will help students learn more about the Greek system and will foster community even before they enter the recruitment process.
“Chapters need to identify the characteristics of those they will invite to join, and bring into the organization the right way, through a process that develops mutual respect, treats each member with dignity and that really empowers people to accept their responsibility to care for the organization,” Apgar concluded.
Jacques Diec ’15 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.