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SUNY Potsdam to crack down on Greek organizations’ hazing practices

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POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam is instituting tough new rules to crack down on hazing and dangerous consumption of alcohol among fraternities and sororities.

“We are concerned about the well being of our students,” college President John F. Schwaller said. “I can’t protect every student, but I can tell staff and faculty to make the well-being of our students a priority... When we discover activities which are liable to cause harm to students, we have to take a stand.”

The policies would require fraternities and sororities to hold their new member education programs, or pledging ceremonies, on campus.

During the spring, Greek letter organizations recruit and initiate new members, typically inviting potential members into their houses as pledges. During that time, initiates may be required to participate in ceremonies or rituals.

Mr. Schwaller said those ceremonies and rituals have become increasingly dangerous.

“There are too many reports of students subjected to illegal, demeaning, degrading and disturbing behavior,” he said. Under New York state law, hazing which results in an injury is a class A misdemeanor. If no injury occurs, it is a violation.

Over the past five years, there have been 68 complaints against Greek organizations at SUNY Potsdam, including hazing, alcohol and drug charges, theft, vandalism and fights. Four organizations have had temporary losses of recognition and two were permanently banned. During the fall 2012 semester, the university received four hazing reports, said Greek Life Coordinator Julie M. Dold.

“We’ve heard reports of alcohol misuse, sexual harassment and misconduct, emotional abuse and abuse of power that results in physical or emotional harm,” she said. “Given that investigations are ongoing, I’m not comfortable going into specifics.”

SUNY Potsdam is also restricting the hours new member education programs may be held to between 9 a.m. and midnight. Fraternities and sororities must submit their plans to the Office of Campus Life.

Mr. Schwaller is also convening a new Greek Life Task Force to take a comprehensive look at the impact of fraternities and sororities on campus. The last study of Greek life at SUNY Potsdam’s campus took place in 1995-96.

“I really want to look at all aspects of Greek life,” he said. “I know they will find a lot of commendable things going on.”

Mr. Schwaller, himself a fraternity member, said his intention was not to target Greek organizations.

“I am a very strong supporter of Greek letter organizations... but we have had the largest group of challenges from our Greek organizations,” he said.

Nevertheless, Ms. Dold said some organizations aren’t happy with the changes.

“I know they don’t like it, but they’ve been really receptive,” she said. “Some are angry, but the majority are coming forward with a level of understanding.”

Since Ms. Dold was hired as coordinator of Greek life in 2007, the school’s organizations have had recurring problems with alcohol and hazing.

In recent years, SUNY Potsdam’s Psi Phi Delta, Phi Chi Epsilon and Sigma Pi fraternities were disbanded for similar violations, including charges of a gang assault by former Sigma Pi members in 2008 and the alleged hosting of underage drinking parties by Phi Chi Epsilon. SUNY Potsdam has three active fraternities and 10 active sororities remaining.

Since the creation of the Greek life coordinator’s position, Greek organizations have increased their philanthropic giving from $5,000 to $22,000 annually. They have also raised their grade point average.

“I cannot underscore sufficiently the strides the Greek organizations have made in the last five to six years,” Mr. Schwaller said. “We still have this nagging problem.”

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