On Thursday, a search committee interviewed the first of several candidates for director of Greek Life, a position left vacant by Sunni Solomon. While the candidate, Lester Coghill, promised several commendable changes to the way the Greek system is supervised, we’re not convinced he’s the man for the job.
It’s clear that Greek life at Binghamton University is in trouble. Whether this is because pledging here truly is worse than elsewhere or because it has simply been blown out of proportion by media coverage is immaterial. What matters is that, for better or worse, fraternities and sororities at Binghamton University are going to see a massive overhaul to the way they do things, if they make it through the year at all.
The system needs someone who can meet that challenge head-on. And while Coghill’s promise to share stories of the “stupid things [his fraternity] did” is a welcome change from the opacity of the past, it’s going to take a lot more than that to positively impact the system while ensuring its survival.
First and foremost, we’d encourage more of the openness Coghill promised — but it should be a two way street. To change the pledging process, the new director, and the administration as a whole, must have a better understanding of what it was like in the past. In other words, the new director of Greek Life should be able to sit down with current Greeks and hear what they went through to be initiated. Rumors and second-hand reports are not enough.
This is, of course, a somewhat unconscionable move for fraternities and sororities as it stands now. The understanding is that anyone caught hazing will face severe consequences — or will be responsible for the demise of Greek life as a whole.
The director of Greek Life should thus promise amnesty —and maybe even incentives — to any organization that volunteers information. What happened, happened. There’s no reason to punish members for errors of the past. What’s more important is to use the past to ensure that it does not repeat itself. Serious repercussions need to exist, but they need to be looking forward rather than back.
And even more importantly than knowing what happened, a successful director should understand why it happened. Writing off hazing as the work of sadists is a cop-out; these are college kids we’re talking about, and it’s hard to believe 10 percent of this school is composed of people with severe psychological problems.
Rather, hazing should be seen as the misguided efforts of immature kids who are trying to build something we all want: an organization of like-minded people who will be lifelong friends.
President Stenger, a fraternity man himself, touched on the difficulties these organizations face: “The line between traditions that test loyalty to and knowledge of an organization versus actions that physically or psychologically abuse a young person has been unclear in these organizations for more than a century.”
That’s not to excuse the behavior of offending organizations. Rather, it’s to say that to be successful, our new Greek Life director must offer an alternative to hazing; hazing has persisted for as long as it has because there have been no feasible alternatives.
There is a spectrum of pledging experiences, and while some organizations err on the side of caution, others do not — 20-something-year-olds are not known for their foresight or forbearance.
The road ahead for whoever takes over as director of Greek Life is not an easy one — hazing has been around for a long time. But there are a whole range of experiences that engender esprit de corps that are not also cruel and unusual, from extended, brotherhood-wide camping trips to football games.
The challenge is to present these alternatives in a way that will entice Greek organizations — otherwise, it’s near certain that at least one organization will simply continue the ways of the past, leaving the future of Greek life at Binghamton University as anyone’s guess.