Skorton bans pledging in Cornell's Greek system, saying, 'This must stop'

David Skorton

Pledging as a part of fraternity and sorority membership selection will be officially abolished at Cornell University, President David Skorton has announced.

"We must end the current system of pledging, often perpetuated through traditions handed down over generations, because it fosters hazing and other activities based on humiliation or risky behavior that often pose psychological harm and immediate physical danger to those involved," Skorton said.

The ban will be implemented during the 2012-13 academic year, said Kent L. Hubbell, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students. The president has directed the student leaders of Cornell's Greek chapters to develop a system of member recruitment and initiation that does not involve pledging, as it now exists. Chapters found in violation of the new policy will face loss of recognition.

During the current academic year, Hubbell said, "we will be monitoring the pledging process very closely to be sure our expectations are fully met." Any hazing activity will continue to be vigorously prosecuted through the campus judicial and the criminal justice systems, he emphasized.

Skorton has also urged the student leaders of Cornell's Greek system to work with their national organizations to end the current system of pledging, and to deal with the problem of high-risk drinking, more generally. And he called on them to help lead a national reform effort on these issues.

Travis T. Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, commented on Skorton's charge, saying, "We are committed to work with our students, alumni and national partners and to provide resources needed to accomplish this goal."

The Greek system plays a vital role in fostering friendship, community service, networking and leadership, Skorton said. The goal of the ban is to remove the unnecessary and dangerous activities often practiced in pledging -- and often extending to illegal hazing -- so as to preserve and enhance the positive attributes the Greek experience offers students, he said.

The Executive Committee of the Cornell Board of Trustees passed a resolution this week supporting Skorton's effort.

Hazing has been prohibited at Cornell since 1980 and has been a crime in New York state since 1983. Unfortunately, Skorton noted, those laws have yet to fully produce change in a culture that condones humiliation and bullying as the entry fee for membership. "For far too long, campuses like ours have worked to be rid of hazing practices, but those efforts have not been successful. Anything less than a complete overhaul of the pledging process to bring people into our organizations will result in more of the same. We cannot simply 'try harder,'" Skorton said. "We need a clean break with the past."

Last winter, a Cornell student died in a fraternity house after an apparent hazing incident during pledging; the case is still pending resolution in the courts, the Cornell chapter of the fraternity has been disbanded, and those indicted in connection with the incident are no longer enrolled at Cornell. During the past 10 years, nearly 60 percent of Cornell fraternity and sorority chapters have been found responsible for activities that are considered hazing under the Cornell Code of Conduct, Hubbell said.

Cornell is not alone. While 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing, the vast majority of them do not identify the events as hazing. Of those who do, 95 percent do not report the events to campus officials.

"Although pledging is justified as a period of time during which pre-initiates, or 'pledges,' devote themselves to learning the information necessary to become full members, in reality, pledging is too often the vehicle for activities that are dangerous or demeaning," Skorton said. "This must stop."

Cornell's past and current efforts to end high-risk drinking and hazing have included interventions and counseling for individuals; a medical amnesty protocol that reduces barriers to calling for help in alcohol emergencies; perennial educational programs and informative websites, such as, which includes a confidential reporting mechanism and a blotter of hazing activities on campus; and significant changes in Cornell's Greek system aimed at reducing underage and high-risk drinking and hazing, Hubbell said. "While some good has come as a result, it has not been enough to end the practices," he said.

"It is time -- long past time -- to address the very practices of the Greek system that continue to foster hazing despite our best efforts to prevent it," Skorton said.

"Cornell takes this issue seriously," he added, "and we intend to do what it will take to lead this change."


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