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SUNY Potsdam task force says fraternities, sororities worth saving

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POTSDAM — There still are more questions than answers after the SUNY Potsdam Greek Life Task Force’s first few months of gathering information, but the group made its first recommendation to the college last week.

Sororities and fraternities should remain a part of campus life, but significant changes will have to be made to prevent further behavioral problems.

“We think there’s something worth saving here,” committee Chairman Alan L. Hersker said.

The task force was commissioned to find solutions to a string of violations by Greek organizations, including hazing and underage drinking. While students in these organizations often volunteer in the community and retain strong ties to the school as alumni, these incidents highlighted the need for a new policy.

“We also acknowledged in our recommendation that things have to change,” Mr. Hersker said.

The nature of these changes still is vague. The task force will continue to gather information through the summer and fall, and will issue further recommendations in December.

College leaders remain uncertain how to handle Greek organizations in the meantime. Last semester a series of temporary restrictions was established, ordering organizations to keep their training period for new members under three weeks, and to hold any pledging activities in a public campus location with prior notice given to the college.

The crackdown angered the groups, which see their secret pledging rituals as an essential part of their identity.

Officials have not decided whether the restrictions will remain in place next semester.

“With regards to the new member education programs, nothing has been decided,” Julie M. Dold, assistant director of student life, said via email. “I will be meeting with Greek leadership over the next few weeks to evaluate the program from this semester and to make a proposal for what it should be for this coming semester.”

It is the secrecy that defines these organizations that makes them so hard to regulate, according to Mr. Hersker. The task force will spend the next few months thinking of ways to increase communication between the Greek community and SUNY Potsdam.

“We’re beginning to see a Greek system that is not really well integrated with the college,” he said.

The challenge, he said, is to find a way to emphasize the responsibilities of fraternities and sororities while respecting their rights as quasi-independent student organizations.

Several possible solutions have been proposed, inclu-ding encouraging alumni to serve as ambassadors between Greek groups and the college.

Task force members will visit other SUNY schools and meet with Potsdam residents over the summer. And, while answers may be months away, it seems Greek life will remain a fixture at SUNY Potsdam.

If the college cannot better integrate its fraternities and sororities, these groups may choose to disassociate themselves completely from the school, existing without official sanction, according to Mr. Hersker.

“The idea of underground, unrecognized organizations is fairly terrifying,” he said, describing a “Wild West of party houses,” outside the reach of college officials.

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