President Pollack initiates reforms for Greek letter organizations

Dear Ithaca Campus Community,

Greek letter organizations have a long history at Cornell University and have been a prominent feature of the undergraduate experience since 1868. Members of these organizations have made great contributions to our university; year after year, sororities and fraternities have helped to foster a vibrant community spirit on our campus and in Ithaca through leadership, volunteer work and other forms of engagement.

Unfortunately, over the years and in recent months that legacy has been marred by numerous incidents of hazing and other forms of misconduct. Cornell is not alone in the struggle against hazing. It is a cultural problem in organizations at universities across the country, a nationwide epidemic that claimed the lives of four students on other campuses last fall alone.

Today, the outcome of yet another investigation of hazing violations at Cornell was announced. This latest incident along with other pending cases and allegations of hazing on campus are extremely disturbing. Even more troubling is the fact that these are just the latest episodes in what has become an ongoing pattern of hazing and other offenses by members of various Greek letter organizations at Cornell. This misconduct threatens the health and safety of our students and casts a shadow over our community of scholars.

I believe that it is important for the community to understand that the behavior in question goes well beyond innocent fun. It includes extremely coercive, demeaning, sexually inappropriate and physically dangerous activities that jeopardize students’ health and lives. The danger of such reckless actions cannot be ignored. Such activities are not tolerated in society and must stop in our Greek letter organizations.

It is time to elevate behavioral expectations among leaders and members of Greek letter organizations. To that end, and after extensive discussions with many stakeholders, including faculty, students, parents, alumni and the board of trustees, I have directed the Division of Student and Campus Life to work with student and alumni leaders to finalize and implement the following changes aimed at protecting our students and improving cultural norms in Greek letter organizations at Cornell.

The following changes are effective immediately:

  • Substantiated acts of hazing will result in a chapter’s suspension and loss of recognition. A minimum of three years will be applied for those cases that include coerced alcohol or other drug consumption, sexual and related misconduct, or other forms of violence or mentally abusive behavior that poses a threat to health and safety. Consistent with current practice, all allegations of hazing will be reported to the Office of the Judicial Administrator to pursue individual accountability for members associated with the accused organization.
  • Hard alcohol (more than 30% alcohol by volume) is not permitted in a residential chapter house at any time.

The following changes will take effect fall semester 2018:

  • Each Greek letter chapter must submit a new member education plan prior to participating in new member recruitment. Chapter leadership will assume accountability for adhering to the approved plan.
  • Prospective and current members must participate in mandatory educational programming (including, but not limited to, university expectations, hazing awareness, and policies on alcohol, drug use, and sexual and related misconduct) in order to be eligible to participate in the new-member recruitment and intake processes.
  • A systemwide, online scorecard will be published and updated annually to include, among other things, the full judicial history of each chapter. This website will be publicized to the campus community and to the parents of all students.
  • A comprehensive review of event management guidelines will be conducted and submitted for my approval. The review will include, but not be limited to, the training required for sober monitors, the use of independent bystander intervention services, the distribution of beer and wine for large events, and the number of large events permitted.

The following changes will take effect in spring semester 2019:

  • Leadership positions in residential Greek letter organizations must be held by junior or senior students who reside in the chapter house.
  • A comprehensive review of the Chapter Review Board process that governs recognition for fraternities and sororities will be conducted and submitted for my approval. The review will include, but not be limited to, structure, procedures, process, membership and community expectations.

The following change will take effect fall semester 2021:

  • All residential fraternities and sororities must have a full-time, live-in adviser with clearly stated objectives and expectations for the role.

I do not take these steps lightly. The stakes are high, and leaders of student organizations must come to understand their responsibility to promote the health and safety of our campus community.

I want to emphasize that holding Greek letter organizations to these high standards does not represent an attack or an attempt to diminish the role of these organizations in student life. To the contrary, this effort is intended to strengthen fraternities and sororities and to help ensure that they remain a part of Cornell for years to come. The student experience today is different from what it was in the past; community expectations have shifted; and behavior around hazing must change, too. It is time for leaders and members of Greek letter organizations to demonstrate the efficacy of self-governance over elements within their control and to meet the expectations that go along with recognition as a part of the Cornell community and of our shared values.

I look forward to working together to eradicate hazing behavior, to elevate the Greek experience, and to present an example for other universities to follow.

It is my hope that all of our Greek letter organizations will emerge stronger as a result of these measures and more fully embody the best that Cornell has to offer.


Martha E. Pollack