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Imagine

There's some pretty buzz-worthy news going on that the University has suspended Sigma Alpha Epsilon over violations of the campus's alcohol policy that have come to light in response to a sophomore's death on Friday morning:

In the meantime, on March 1 the university imposed an interim suspension of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Cornell officials said that information they have received about the use of alcohol during the events of Feb. 25 is sufficient to conclude that the fraternity had likely violated the university's recognition policy. That policy authorizes fraternities and sororities to have a chapter at Cornell and outlines the university's expectations -- including observance of state and federal laws. Interim suspension, which includes suspension of all social events and new member education and initiation activities, will continue while the university completes its own investigation into the events that led to Desdunes's death.

It's pretty easy to let one's imagination do some wandering:

-- Imagine that instead of Desdunes's untimely death, he only was hospitalized. Would the fraternity still have been suspended for violation of University alcohol policy?

-- Imagine that nothing afoul would have come out of SAE this past weekend. Would it still have been suspended for (pretty much assumed) violation of the University's alcohol policy?

-- Imagine that instead of letting the Greek system persist through the 50s and 60s, Cornell would have decommissioned the entire system like many other colleges did during that time (e.g. Williams) and instead developed small, co-educational living-leaning houses and co-ops. Would Desdunes still have died?

-- Or alternatively, imagine that Cornell had developed a residential college experience for all underclassmen (freshman and sophomores) as part of Rawlings's residential initiative, banning Greek system involvement until later on in a student's academic career (much like Dartmouth). Would Desdunes still have died?

I'm not trying to point fingers, but it's something to think about. Institutions matter. Culture matters. The environment we create for ourselves matters. And clearly we are all in some way responsible.

Late Update: It's been a busy day, so I only see now that Brian over at Ithacating is asking whether or not the SAE death represents the death knell for Greek Life. And he writes about an incident that occurred at MIT 15 years ago:

Perhaps a better comparison would be a case from MIT that occurred about 15 years ago. On September 26, 1997, a pledge of FIJI at MIT died after a pledge event due to alcohol poisoning. MIT is, like Cornell, a prestigious institution with substantial Greek Life at MIT, it comprises about 42% the student body. Their had been signs Greek Life had been getting out of control prior to the death of Scott Krueger. As a result of the event, RAs were put in fraternity houses, mandatory CPR training was established, all freshman were required to live in dorms, MIT paid a $6 million settlement to the family due to negligence in preventing the event from occurring, the fraternity was shut down (and has never come back), and several of the former FIJI members were convicted of criminal offenses. It forever changed the way MIT dealt with its fraternities. But they still have a large, influential system.

I'm in the camp that the University's Greek system will not be shut down as a result of Desdunes's death, especially as it wasn't in regards to any sort of pledging or hazing activity and the path dependency at this juncture in Cornell's history is just too great . But sometimes think that it should have been banned from campus 50 years ago.


Matthew Nagowski | Posted on March 01, 2011 (#)

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