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Death stirs Cornell to end hazing

Cornell University is moving to eradicate risky pledging practices at campus fraternities and sororities to avert hazing mishaps like the one in February in which a New York City sophomore died after an induction ritual involving coerced drinking.

A Cornell student, George Desdunes, 19, of Brooklyn, was found unconscious on a couch at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house Feb. 25 and later was pronounced dead. Authorities said his blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.35 percent, more than four times the legal limit for driving.

Another Ivy League school, Princeton, is banning Greek societies from recruiting first-year students starting in the fall of 2012 to help curtail student drinking.

Cornell's president, David Skorton, said Wednesday he's directed Greek chapters to develop a recruitment and initiation system that doesn't involve students having to perform "dangerous or demeaning" acts as a condition of membership.

While hazing has been formally banned at Cornell since 1980, Skorton said it still occurs under the guise of pledging, often perpetuated through traditions carried across generations. He urged national fraternities and sororities to end pledging across all campuses and said Cornell can help lead the way.

Nearly 2,000 college students in the United States die annually from alcohol-related injuries, and about 600,000 are injured, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

In the elite Ivy League, fraternities and sororities already have some strict controls. They're not officially recognized at Harvard and Princeton. Students can't join until the spring semester of their first year at Penn or until they are sophomores at Dartmouth.

At a meeting of Greek student leaders Tuesday, Skorton gave few specifics of how pledging should be replaced but emphasized that "degrading, humiliating and dangerous" actions could not continue.

He invited the chapters to draw up alternatives for inducting new members but said he'd rule out proposals that directly or indirectly encourage hazing and other risky behavior.

Cornell expects to have its new system in place by the fall of 2012 and "we hope that this really does catch on" on campuses around the country, Travis Apgar, Cornell's associate dean of students for fraternities and sororities, said in an interview.

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