The existence of social Greek life at Baruch College was hotly debated on Dec. 5 at a forum hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government during its weekly senate meeting. Packed with alumni and current students, the forum discussed the issues surrounding the moratorium on fraternity and sorority recruitment at the college, and attempted to gauge student interest in anticipation of the moratorium’s set end in spring 2018.
The moratorium has been in place since the Fall 2014 semester, after the hazing death of freshman Chun Hsien “Michael” Deng in December 2013.
Part of Deng’s pledge process to Baruch’s chapter of Pi Delta Psi was to travel to a rented house in Pennsylvania with the fraternity, where he participated in a ritual that forced pledges to wear a backpack full of sand and cross a yard blindfolded as other fraternity members physically blocked them.
Deng was knocked unconscious after fraternity members beat him during the ritual. After an hour of Deng being unresponsive, they took him to a hospital.
At the hospital, Deng was pronounced brain-dead and taken off life support.
Baruch’s response to the tragedy was to revoke the charter of Pi Delta Psi at the college, as well as to impose a recruitment moratorium on all social Greek organizations.
Business and service Greek organizations were allowed to stay
on campus. As of the current academic year, no social Greek organization has registered to be recognized on campus.
Current students who attended the forum did so to state their interest in learning more about social Greek organizations and their desires to join. Meanwhile, alumni at the forum testified in favor of lifting the moratorium and bringing back social Greek organizations, citing their benefits for the Baruch community and the effect Greek organizations have had on their own personal growth.
“So when I was younger, I didn’t like being Chinese. I got made fun of a lot growing up — a lot of ‘ching chongs’ as I walked down the street,” said Ashley Chen, former president of alpha Kappa Delta Phi. “But after joining my sorority, it really helped me connect with my culture. And not only did it help me connect with my culture, it gave me the opportunity to learn about others.”
Chen continued, “Greek life really gave a lot to me and to put it out there, I felt like the decision was unfair to the ones who [were] following protocol, following the rules, but even with the moratorium, we didn’t go behind the school’s back. We continued to host events, we did not initiate any new members, and I think we deserve a chance to come back. And we are sincere about this, we understand the importance of what happened, and I believe that no organization would ever want that or ever want to risk that ever again.”
Daniel Perez, former chapter president of Lambda Upsilon Lambda brought up how many cultural Greek organizations, like his own, were unfairly targeted by the ban because Baruch used to not have a designation for cultural organizations, and his fraternity had to register under the social category.
Perez also argued for the importance of Greek life, saying: “If I were an undergrad student, I’d want to see my community thrive. That’s what I strive for. I want to make sure everybody has a seat at the table and was able to give back.”
The greatest effect that the moratorium had on regular student life was the decline of “Relay for Life,” a yearly charity event for the American Cancer Society hosted
at Baruch. Social Greek life was a major source of fundraising for the event, and the fraternities’ lack of presence on campus in recent years has led to the event’s stagnation. In spring 2015, the relay raised $52,043 for cancer research, down from the $72,532 raised the year prior, which was before the moratorium. In 2016 and 2017, the numbers only dipped further. With the 2017 total being a little over $32,000, “Relay for Life” will not be returning to Baruch in spring 2018.
A large portion of the conversation centered on the obstacles social Greek life would face if USG attempted to bring it back on campus. Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Art King, Director of Student Life Damali Smith and Associate Director of Community Standards Brandy Peer were on hand to explain how Greek life would need its own adviser, costing money that would be hard to justify in an already tight budget.
The administrators also explained that CUNY does not allow for gender discrimination in clubs, meaning that all genders would have to be allowed to join any fraternity or sorority.
This discourages a lot of national organizations from working within CUNY colleges, as some fraternities and sororities do not want to be all-gender inclusive or have rules against the practice. This becomes a problem, explained the administrators, when a national organization’s funding is needed to pay the high price of liability insurance a chapter would need to function at the school.
Another concern raised was the difficulty of regulating the activities of Greek organizations once students leave school for the day, because Baruch is a commuter school and not residential. The administrators suggested that students could join metro chapters of Greek organizations instead, which operate with students throughout the city and do not need to be chartered at Baruch.
There is also a concern, continued the administrators, that students would not be dissuaded from hazing again.
“We’ve done everything that you’ve talked about, and still a person died,” said King, in response to suggestions given about how to hold students in Greek life more accountable.
In an interview with The Ticker after the forum, Smith explained that social Greek organizations and the Office of Student Life were frequently in communication before the ban, with members and potential pledges undergoing three different types of anti-hazing workshops depending on their role in the process. With the three types together, nine total workshops were held throughout the semester.
Smith explained that oftentimes students would not understand going into a workshop that hazing does not just mean physical punishment — the term can refer to things like sleep deprivation and unintentionally putting the pledge in unsafe situations.
During the forum, Chen mentioned a 60-page document created by a coalition of social Greek organizations, called the Inter Greek Council, directly after the moratorium went into effect, that addressed some of these concerns of accountability and created an action plan. This plan was presented to Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David Christy.
However, said Perez in an interview with The Ticker, this plan was brushed aside.
Perez detailed how the college did not communicate clearly with social Greek organizations following Deng’s death, and how during Christy’s meeting with the organizations, the college administration sent out an email explaining that the moratorium was occurring.
“You invite us in for a conversation and then before the conversation starts you make a decision? And don’t even tell us during the meeting? Come on,” said Perez, who was also the president of the Inter Greek Council.
Smith was also in attendance of this meeting between Christy and the social Greek organizations, as she mentioned during the forum.
Smith described: “I said, ‘Will you be willing to put your letters on the line for every other organization in this room? If another organization in this room ends up hazing, pledging or hurting someone, would you be willing to lose your letters?’ And I heard crickets. And so my question is, if you are not willing to put your letters on the line, how can you ask me as a professional to put students’ lives on the line?”
The lack of transparency by the college’s administration on the Greek life issue was hammered by a few of the representative senators at the table, notably Brandon Paillere.
“Not to be cynical, but I guess from an outsider perspective, to me it looks a lot like the administration just kind of wants to get out of the press, not have any more bad press and not really care for students’ safety,” said Paillere, leading to a vehement protest from Smith, and King asking him if he was “thinking straight.”
Paillere further responded to the revelation at the forum that the administration knew about and was currently punishing Greek organizations on campus that were operating underground and accepting pledges.
“We’re being more reactive, when we see hazing stuff happen, like, underground, we’re being more reactive than we’re being proactive. So I feel like bringing them back and having some regulation would be the best option,” Paillere said.
In a later interview with The Ticker, Paillere revealed that Christy had visited USG in a closed-door meeting on Nov. 14, asking them about having Greek life on campus. He urged USG to make a decision “as soon as possible” on whether Greek life should exist at the college, but he would still make his own decision on whether Greek life should be present. He also suggested having an open forum on the subject, as it was something USG had done in the past. Vice President of Academic Affairs Suleman Aleem and Vice President of Student Services Erica Yang corroborated Paillere’s claims. Yang added that Christy originally wanted them to make a decision at the same meeting.
USG chose to host the forum in order to gain more insight into the situation.
At the end of the forum, USG decided that social Greek life was at least of some interest to students and should be investigated further. Suggestions on how to go about this included tabling events to poll students on whether they would like Greek life to return and forming a committee. Administrators present were not optimistic about the prospect of Greek life returning, but said that if there was enough student interest and enough work done, it could possibly make
Perez did not fault administrators for their stance.
“I just wanted to make clear that OSL is doing a good job. I know this because I’ve sat on both sides of the table and I’ve seen multiple discussions from different angles. They’re doing their job. It’s one where they have to sit down and tell students ‘no’ because their superiors are telling them ‘no.’ But it also raises the point that if students really want this, they’re going to have to [do] more than [go] just to the OSL office. Because, unfortunately, they’re stuck being the middleman. The middleman in the good or the bad.”
After roughly two hours of debate, the meeting was adjourned with no clear conclusion or definite answer.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Sperling.