With Greeks constituting over one-third of our student population and a vast majority of our social events hosted by Greek organizations, there’s no doubt that members of Cornell’s fraternities & sororities have tremendous social influence in our campus community. Beyond the academic, leadership, service, and professional opportunities that are unique to the Greek experience, Greeks benefit from innumerable social opportunities to relax and unwind, connect with friends, and have a fun, memorable, and safe time.
We all undoubtedly want students to feel safe at our parties, but do they? Do we host events where all of our peers—regardless of their identity or background—feel secure and respected? Have we lived up to our community aspiration of empowering every student to take ownership of their peers’ safety in all social environments? I’d assert that we’ve made some outstanding recent progress, but we still have much to do.
As it stands today, I truly believe that the Greek social system is structured for safety. Compared to our peer institutions—many of which have banned on-campus social events and driven all social activity off-campus and into unregulated, unsafe environments—our University and the IFC truly empower students to keep one another safe while having a good time. And that’s something to celebrate and build upon.
Cornell IFC’s Event Management Guidelines exist to keep students safe and the party in control. Every year, in order to even be eligible to host or attend an event, all fraternity and sorority members must be trained in consent education, bystander intervention, sexual violence prevention, and survivor support and advocacy. Furthermore, we require that fraternities staff sober monitors at all events to check in on partygoers; we prohibit hard alcohol, yet allow beer & wine; we require that ample snacks & water be present; we hire professionally trained security guards to audit all events; and, most importantly, we do not penalize students who call for help in risky, potentially dangerous situations.
But, with all that said, keeping the party safe is about so much more than following the rules—it’s not about what you can’t do at a party, but, instead, about what you can do at party to keep others safe. Truly anyone can fulfill the role of a Cayuga’s Watcher, a peer who attends an event to prevent alcohol abuse, mitigate high-risk behavior, take action against unwanted sexual encounters, and intervene when things don’t look right. It’s on us to take ownership and do it.
You don’t need to get paid or wear a bright neon t-shirt to be an active bystander. Bystander intervention is as simple as taking a drink away from a friend who has a few had too many. It’s as intuitive as preventing a peer from leading an incoherent student away from the party and upstairs to a bedroom. It’s as straightforward as encouraging your brothers and sisters to have open, healthy conversations about sex that are respectful and inclusive, not derogatory and demeaning. Indeed, it’s simple, intuitive, and straightforward—but sometimes the simplest actions can have the most profound impacts.
Greeks: the rest of the Cornell community is looking at us to take leadership. Let’s continue to have a good time—but let’s make these good times even better by living up to our values and striving to be active bystanders. Let’s leverage our social influence to spread pro-social behavior far and wide, to hold our brothers and sisters to the highest social standards, and to intervene when we perceive any type of risk. It only takes a few empowered Cornellians to inspire a chain reaction of pro-social behavior, and I’m confident that a number of those inspired Cornellians are Greek. Now is the time. It’s on us.
— Blake Brown ’17, IFC President