Progress made in reforms to sorority, fraternity life

Cornell continues to enact changes and reforms to sorority and fraternity life at the university as part of the ongoing response to a comprehensive review President Martha E. Pollack requested in 2018.

A new staff investigator position – independent of the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life (OSFL) – has been added, and new procedures for its conduct review board have been implemented.

According to Kara Miller McCarty, the Robert G. Engel Director for Sorority and Fraternity Life at Cornell, OSFL staff will no longer serve as investigators, nor as hearing chairs, for sorority and fraternity conduct cases that review university recognition of those organizations.

“As student affairs professionals, we strongly believe in the learning that also happens outside the classroom in student organizations such as fraternities and sororities,” she said. “The addition of an independent investigator will allow our office more time to engage meaningfully with students to support their leadership and development in an effort to have the maximum impact on chapters and on the entire community.”

The investigator, Brandon Dawson, joined Cornell Sept. 30 and reports directly to Jenny Loeffelman, assistant vice president for student and campus life.

Best practices for sororities and fraternities and hazing prevention at universities was on the agenda for alumni who were in Ithaca Nov. 1-3 for the 22nd Annual A.D. White Annual Summit for Sororities and Fraternities. Alumni engaged with current undergraduate sorority and fraternity members and attended an emotional and impactful keynote presentation, “Love, Mom and Dad,” by the parents of three young men who died after hazing incidents on U.S. campuses.

The “Love, Mom and Dad” program was sponsored by The Sigma Alpha Epsilon Alumni Association in honor of George Desdunes, a Cornell undergraduate who died in 2011 as a result of a hazing at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

In 2018, Pollack outlined a series of reforms to the fraternity and sorority community at Cornell, citing health and safety concerns and building on previous reforms that had been enacted beginning in 2012, with the aim of strengthening the organizations by elevating behavioral expectations and cultural norms among members and leaders.

The committee that examined the chapter review board process and recommended hiring an investigator outside OSFL was chaired by Mary Beth Grant, senior associate dean of students, and included students, alumni, staff and faculty members. OSFL’s review board, which is the body that reviews sorority and fraternity organizational violations that can lead to a loss of recognition, has been renamed the Sorority Fraternity Organizational Misconduct Board. New procedures for this board are available online.

Also as part of enacted reforms to fraternity and sorority life, Cornell has launched an online, publicly available scorecard charting how campus fraternities and sororities are performing as part of ongoing efforts to give a contextual picture of individual chapters at the university.

The scorecard, which is posted on Cornell’s Campus and Community Engagement site, includes measurements such as average GPA; philanthropic fundraising dollars raised; number of new and current members; service hours performed; current recognition status; and links to full judicial histories.

The scorecard, which will be updated annually prior to the start of each academic year, is a complement to the university’s hazing website, which is updated as violations are adjudicated.

Cornell’s scorecard also is part of a larger national initiative that was formed in January 2019 and is administered by Penn State’s Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform. This initiative has developed into a model for best practices at campuses around the country by aggregating data across participating universities and colleges and giving a broader picture of Greek chapters on a national level.

“The launch of this publicly available scorecard reaffirms our commitment to the ongoing improvement of Cornell’s sorority and fraternity community,” said Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life.

While the scorecard captures judicial violations for which an organization has been found accountable by either a Greek Judicial Board or Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life Review Board, it does not capture policy or campus Code of Conduct violations against individual members.

More than 1,000 students were trained this past spring in fraternity and sorority membership expectations and in bystander intervention support. Additionally, Cornell is reviewing fraternities’ and sororities’ new member education and recruitment policies, plans are in progress for live-in advisers in chapter houses, and the university continues to encourage a transition to leadership positions being held by juniors and seniors.

Cornell is home to a large sorority and fraternity community. Each year, after formal recruitment, more than 4,000 undergraduates – nearly a quarter of Cornell’s undergraduate population – belong to one of 56 fraternities and sororities on campus.

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