Cornell University and Ithaca College have each taken different plans of action regarding two recent student deaths.
After Cornell University sophomore George Desdunes was found dead Feb. 25, Cornell
revoked one fraternity’s recognition. In the aftermath of Ithaca College freshman Victoria Cheng’s death, the college has decided to make no formal policy changes.
According to a Cornell University press release, alcohol played a role in Desdunes’ death. Jody Coombs, senior investigator at the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department, has said he believed alcohol was also a contributing factor in Cheng’s death.
Coombs said the investigation into Cheng’s death is ongoing.
Cheng was found dead on Feb. 26 outside 380 Pennsylvania Ave. Through interviews, Coombs said investigators have developed a time line of Cheng’s events leading up to when residents first spotted the freshman, but he declined to discuss any specific information related to the investigation. He said investigators are awaiting autopsy results but added that there’s no timetable for their release.
David Maley, associate director of media relations, said the college does not plan on adopting any new regulations on student alcohol use.
“We certainly don’t throw up our hands and say, ‘Students will be students,’” he said. “But we also recognize that [student alcohol use] is a difficult issue to deal with.”
Nancy Reynolds, program director for the Health Promotion Center at Ithaca College, said the center is working with Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and the Student Government Association to raise awareness of current policies.
Information regarding the college’s Medical Amnesty Policy, which was enacted in May 2010, was recently hung on residential hall bulletin boards. The policy dictates that students who seek assistance may be protected from judicial action.
Reynolds said the Health Promotion Center will also offer three sessions in April called “Don’t Just Stand There,” which will teach students CPR as well as other first aid skills.
“We have really important strategies in place, but maybe students are still not aware of them,” Reynolds said.
Senior Kevin Fish, SGA president, said in addition to working with Reynolds, SGA is also considering offering weekend transportation.
“We are continuing to look into the possibility of a shuttle that could possibly service South Hill, which is the [area] a lot of students are walking up and down,” he said.
After pending investigations of Desdunes’ death, Cornell withdrew the recognition of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the fraternity where Desdunes was found unresponsive Feb. 25.
Claudia Wheatley, communication manager in the Office of Press Relations at Cornell, said the decision to rescind recognition of the fraternity came from a university investigations.
“The revocation is no less than five years and the house needs to be vacated by today,” she said.
Following the university’s response, SAE national headquarters, which has 241 chapters across the country, also suspended the Cornell chapter of the fraternity for five years.
The Interfraternity Council at Cornell placed a moratorium on social events and passed a new “medical amnesty” protocol. Though a similar policy already existed at Cornell, it did not give students enough incentive to call, IFC president Daniel Freshman said. The new protocol grants chapters three opportunities to call for medical assistance with absolute amnesty.
Kent Hubbel, dean of students and member of the Review Board at Cornell, said the university implemented policies to tackle the use of alcohol in the Greek system earlier this year. The policies, which call for Greek organizations to ban freshmen from all alcoholic social events over the course of three years, will be implemented more quickly this coming fall.
Freshman said the new protocol and the guidelines imposed this semester at Cornell will help Greek organizations conduct safer events.
“We are always looking for ways to give chapters avenues and running safe events and essentially doing the right thing,” he said.
Maley said the Campus-Community Coalition, a partnership of Ithaca College, Cornell University and Tompkins Cortland Community College, will host an annual public forum at 7 p.m. April 28 at Ithaca High School to increase awareness about alcohol’s effects, consider possible responses or solutions to monitor its usage.
Anthony Hopson, assistant vice president, said the college believes the coalition is a way to commemorate Cheng and assist the community in recovering from her death.
“It’s not necessarily a response to the tragedy,” he said. “But it is an opportunity for each of us to help this community heal and move forward in ways that are healthy and in ways that try to educate the community to take care of one another.”