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Streak of violations puts fraternities, sororities in spotlight

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POTSDAM — Hazing, underage drinking and an alleged sexual assault have village and SUNY Potsdam officials taking a hard look at the role fraternities and sororities play in the community.

The college created a Greek Life Task Force to try to find a solution to a culture of bad behavior among student organizations.

On Monday, the task force held its first public meeting to solicit feedback from students, staff and faculty. Most of those who attended were members of Greek organizations, defending their groups’ contributions to the college and the community.

“Folks spent a lot of time talking about the benefits they’ve had and the positive connections they have made,” said associate professor Alan L. Hersker, chairman of the task force and Anthropology Department chairman.

Lately, those benefits have taken a back seat to reports of bad behavior.

The college is investigating four reported cases of hazing from last semester, the details of which are unclear. The college will not comment on ongoing investigations, said Julie M. Dold, assistant director of student life.

Since 2009, three of SUNY Potsdam’s Greek organizations have lost their recognition from the college.

Members of the Sigma Pi fraternity were charged with incidents of drug use and assaults before the fraternity was banned in 2009. The Phi Chi Epsilon fraternity was banned in 2009 for pledging new members and hosting a party with alcohol while under probation. The Psi Phi Delta fraternity was banned in 2011 for repeated hazing and alcohol violations.

In response to the rash of hazing, SUNY Potsdam instituted a new set of temporary restrictions until a more permanent solution could be found.

“If we just keep doing the same thing over, we’re not going to see different results,” Ms. Dold said.

The restrictions state that the training period for prospective members must last three weeks or less. Any pledging programs must take place between 9 a.m. and midnight on a public campus location, with plans for the events submitted to college officials beforehand.

Most Greek organizations have been working hard to make sure they stay within the guidelines, Ms. Dold said, but the behavioral issues have not disappeared.

A female SUNY Potsdam student allegedly was sexually assaulted at an off-campus fraternity house last month. The identity of the fraternity has not been revealed, so it is unknown whether it is one officially recognized by SUNY Potsdam or Clarkson University.

Incidents with fraternities and sororities tend to spike and dip, Ms. Dold said. The task force attempts to cut down on the spikes.

The problem is a national one, and everyone is short on answers, Ms. Dold said.

“The research on hazing prevention is very much behind the times,” she said.

The good work done by Greek organizations does not cancel out negative incidents, nor vice versa, Ms. Dold said.

“They are not mutually exclusive,” she said.

Fraternities and sororities tend to donate a large portion of their time and money to service. SUNY Potsdam fraternities donated a collective $10,000 to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life on campus last week.

The task force will spend the rest of the semester continuing to gather information about the effect fraternities and sororities have on the community.

It will make recommendations to the college administration in May.

“That’s what our challenge is, to sift through all the different information available to us and try to get to the objective part of it all,” Mr. Hersker said.

“Based on the comments I heard last night, fraternities and sororities are willing to change.”

Clarkson University has had fewer reported incidents of Greek misbehavior, although the Tau Delta Kappa fraternity was banned last year for repeated incidents of providing alcohol to minors.

Behavior among Greek organizations has been mostly good for the last few years, said Stephen I. Newkofsky, Clarkson’s interim dean of students.

“We went through what it seems like SUNY is going through back in the late ’90s,” Mr. Newkofsky said.

At that time, Clarkson put stricter rules in place. Over time, the most troublesome groups were banned, with only those with a history of good behavior remaining.

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