Graduation Cord Changes Cause Upset
by Meagan Cole
Graduation is one of the greatest moments in a person’s life, because it’s meant to reward the countless hours put in to accomplishing goals both in academia as well as extracurricular organizations. However, Roanoke College has recently announced changes to the latter recognition in the form of adorning graduates with less cords. Those who are not involved in an academic organization or honorary fraternity are no longer allowed to wear cords representing these achievements, and several Seniors find the choice concerning just weeks before they walk.
Greek life is one of the upset parties. Unfortunately, their fun reputation often overshadows the hard work they do put in towards benefits giving back to the community, but multiple members find that the praise they do deserve is being figuratively cast aside. “Many people think that being Greek is all [about] parties and social life, but the biggest part of being a member is our dedication to our organizations.” Rebecca Lemos represents Alpha Sigma Alpha from Cumberland, Rhode Island and will be graduating with a History degree at the beginning of May.
She strongly disagrees with the new rules keeping her and her fellow sisters from wearing cords. “Just like how many of us are dedicated to our majors and our academic careers, Greeks put a lot of time, effort and, love into their organizations through hard work, philanthropy, academic excellence, and leadership. Why should I not be able to wear my organization’s letters with pride as I graduate?! I’ve given just as much to my sorority as I have to Roanoke College. My experience wouldn’t be the same at Roanoke without my experiences in Greek life. [Therefore,] Senior members in their respective Greek organizations are a student body that should be recognized at graduation.”
Lemos is also a part of the Resident Advisor program, which has also been denied cords, and again believes that the RA presence is only being considered from a negative perspective. “Many people see us as those mean people who write you up when you’re being loud or the ones who enforce the rules. Being an RA is so much more than that. Being on duty is such a small part of the job. Programming, building a community and relationships, mentoring, and acting as a counselor are all part of being an RA. What we contribute to Roanoke College in our dedication to this campus community should be recognized as something positive. Instead, I feel as if I now mean less to the college community if I can’t be recognized for my commitment as a Resident Advisor.”
Organizations like Mu Beta Psi, who are not considered academic or honorary but still represent a particular discipline on campus, feel as though their students’ hard work is not being accounted for, too. Rebecca Ward is a Senior member of the music fraternity and says, “I have been a part of Mu Beta Psi for three years and have been extremely involved. It saddens me that I cannot walk with the same cords I have watched alumni walk with in past years. This was one of the cords I was most excited to wear at graduation.”
Dr. Chris Lee acted as the deciding authority on the issue and explained the determining factors, “We really had no policy. The extent of college policy was cords and stoles must be in keeping with decorum of the event. Otherwise, what groups wore what and what each meant was indistinguishable from an honor cord.
“As Chief Faculty Marshall, I approve requests for cords and started to get uncomfortable with inconsistency. Therefore, I looked at other schools across the country, talked with the President as well as others, and put in place a policy based on virtually every other school’s policy I encountered to distinguish between honor cords and graduation stoles. Cords are now reserved for members of an academic honors society or group.”
Although cords are no longer applicable to certain organizations, Dr. Lee notes that everyone will still be recognized, “We’re not saying no to anybody, but some requesting cords are only eligible to wear stoles. Graduation stoles are offered for any group on campus. Student athletes and Resident Advisors [previously] wearing cords, for example, can now wear stoles.”
Mu Beta Psi still feels that option is not enough; Ward explains, “For us, there is not a stole option available.” Dr. Lee counters by encouraging organizations ineligible for cords who don’t want to pay the fee for stoles or do not have stoles to get creative, “Athletes are now using pins, or you can take your sash and add an emblem or seal. There is no limit to the number of cords a student can wear and no design restrictions.”
While getting creative certainly isn’t beyond organizations like Mu Beta Psi, Ward believes they were not given an adequate heads up to create anything, “There was no warning. With the sudden change, the Seniors can no longer wear something to show that we are a part of the group. We would be less upset if we had been given more warning, or if they let groups know this year and still let Seniors graduating in May to wear cords. It’s being unaware that truly upset us.”
Another Greek fraternity on campus, the brothers of Pi Kappa Phi, had even gone so far as to purchase their graduation cords before the official changes were announced. Now, they are left with boxes of non-refundable paraphernalia that Roanoke College is not allowing them to wear. Dr. Lee agrees that the biggest fault was with communication, “The announcement on the website did not list me as a source for these concerns, so no one knew who to contact.”
The changes did, however, produce benefits. Dr. Lee points out more serious oversights uncovered due to these inquiries, “Our highest achieving students who attained summa cum laude or cum laude never wore cords. Other students could pile on cords for groups while the valedictorian could have a bare neck.” As a result, these inherent problems could be solved, “Now, the college is providing cords for all Latin graduates as well as a medallion for valedictorian.”
Students like Lemos and Ward still remain unconvinced. Lemos promotes, “Let us wear cords for everything that represents us. Our grades, our jobs, our Greek life. Isn’t graduation about us graduating? About our success? I think we should be allowed to represent that success in front of friends and family, and Roanoke should be proud that it has so many students involved on campus. It only makes the school look even better.”
Lemos concludes by saying, “It just makes me frustrated. I put a lot of hard work into my academics, my job, AND my sorority. I chose to do what made me happy and what I thought would enrich my college experience. I became an RA because I wanted to, I joined a sorority because I wanted to, I studied hard and got good grades because I wanted to. I chose Roanoke College because I wanted to. I should be able to wear cords for ALL the work that I accomplished in my time here. I chose to come here for a well-rounded liberal arts education which, to me, meant not just putting my best foot forward in the classroom but in the community as well.”