New and improved, Greeks’ orientation deemed a success

Travis Apgar

Cornell's efforts to revamp the Greek system's new member orientation is on the right track, university leaders say.

Fifty-eight Greek organizations successfully recruited new members Jan. 21-March 3 (with extensions granted for a few organizations). "The students have invested a great deal of hard work, and when you look at it from a holistic view, this has been a success," said Travis Apgar, the Robert G. Engel Associate Dean of Students.

The orientation activities generally revolved around focused, "intentional" conversations and activities specific to each organization's values, Apgar said. "Members spent time talking with new members about how belonging to the organization had really paid off for them, the ways in which they support each other in difficult times, through academic rigors," Apgar said.

Some fraternities and sororities had Cornell Outdoor Education facilitate team-building activities. Others took advantage of their national organizations' facilitated conversation guides. Some organizations had been trying to increase their presence at athletic events and attended women's hockey and basketball games, Apgar said. "They established relationships as brothers and friends, but also supported their peers who play on those teams," he said.

The orientation activities were part of a campuswide effort to answer President David Skorton's call in August 2011 to "end pledging as we know it." The university had asked the Greek organizations to review their new member orientation programs, ensure that every activity involving a new member could specifically be tied to one of their organization's core principles or values and clearly articulate the activity's goal. "The idea was to create a welcoming environment designed around mutual dignity and respect," Apgar said.

The plans, which also included each activity's time, date and location, were then reviewed and approved by their national organizations, alumni and Cornell's Office of Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living.

The new member orientation period went well for five weeks, Apgar said. But in the sixth week, one fraternity was placed on suspended status and two others on interim suspension as the result of serious,credible allegations of hazing.

"It would appear that in a few chapters, there may have been upper classmen who applied a great deal of pressure to underclassmen and the officers of the organization to continue to hold on to certain activities they deemed important for the new members to prove themselves. There may have been a few groups that took backward steps and succumbed to that pressure," Apgar said.

However, thanks to an upsurge in reporting by Greek members, friends of members, parents, faculty and staff, university officials were alerted to the alleged incidents, Apgar said. "They recognized that hazing was either going to happen or was happening. But the most serious activities hadn't happened yet, so we were able to intervene and prevent potentially serious situations before anybody was hurt," he said.

Further good news is that efforts to educate the community about hazing are paying off, Apgar said. "People do recognize activities as hazing, they know where to report, and they're reporting it," he added. The research on hazing indicates that most people do not recognize hazing when they see it, and if they do acknowledge it as hazing, they rarely report it. "We are experiencing a shift in that norm," Apgar said. "Cornell community members are informed, and, as demonstrated by the reports, they are communicating their disapproval for this kind of behavior -- all positive signs."

This year's new member orientation was a big transition for the Greek system and, in general, it went smoothly, Apgar said. "Overall, I think this was very positive," he said.

Media Contact

John Carberry