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Beyond the News

Penalties for Pledging

Ivies cracking the whip on unhealthy Greek behavior
University Business, June 2012

Fraternities and sororities are at the core of numerous institutions’ social traditions. But as several universities and their Greek organizations have come under fire for excessive drinking and violent behavior, Ivy League schools have stepped up to make changes to the system. With the implementation of new policies and penalties, a few are hoping to curb behaviors often associated with Greek life pledging—and the negative image these behaviors create in the public eye.

In March, Princeton announced that freshmen who join, pledge, or rush a fraternity or sorority will be suspended beginning this fall. The same goes for anyone who solicits freshmen to participate in Greek activities. The policy is based on recommendations in a report from the Working Group on Campus Social and Residential Life, convened by President Shirley M. Tilghman during 2010-2011 and consisting of students, faculty, and administrators. In May 2011, the group recommended banning any level of freshmen involvement in Greek life; it worked for nearly a year on drafting very specific regulations.

The policy relies heavily on self-regulation. “Because sororities and fraternities are not recognized by the university, nor are they dependent on university resources, there is no administrative oversight of their activities,” states the report. “The policy should serve to support the good-faith efforts of Greek organization leaders to shift recruitment efforts away from freshmen. ... The more serious the potential penalty, the easier it will be for leaders to resist pressure from their members to violate the policy or test its limits.”

Princeton isn’t alone in its policy action. In January, Andrew Lohse, a former member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Dartmouth, wrote an op-ed for the student newspaper describing severe hazing he allegedly experienced and witnessed while pledging. After the story was picked up by Rolling Stone, a task force was formed at the college. Last month, the fraternity was put on probation for three terms and ordered to participate in educational programs after some of the allegations were determined to be true. Before this incident, Dartmouth had already acknowledged binge drinking on college campuses to be of serious concern, forming the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking in April 2011 as the inaugural effort of the National College Health Improvement Project founded in 2010.

Yale and Cornell have taken similar measures. In an email to the student body in March, Yale announced that, effective immediately, first-semester freshmen won’t be permitted to participate in fraternity and sorority rush and initiation activities, as recommended by the Committee on Hazing and Initiations. Cornell President David Skorton vowed to overhaul the Greek system and eliminate hazing after the allegedly pledging-linked death of student George Desdunes in February 2011. In April, the Recruitment, Acceptance, Retention, and Education committee released a set of recommendations that will soon be voted on. With 32 Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking partner schools, actions may well be taken elsewhere before long.