As Cornell administrators prepare to release an updated ID scanner for the iPhone and iPad in mid-October, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs and the Interfraternity Council asserted the efficacy of the scanners in deterring freshmen from attending open social events.
The application, ID Card Scan, was created last spring “in response to the policy changes that were going into effect in the fall,” said application developer Eric Grysko ’05, senior programmer and analyst at Student and Academic Services. Effective this August, freshmen have been prohibited from attending open events hosted by fraternities and sororities their first semester on campus.
Fraternities are required to borrow a card scanner and iPod with ID Card Scan for all registered social events, during which chapter presidents and social chairs can access the application, which connects to PeopleSoft and, when scanned, displays the student’s name, class year and whether or not they are 21 years old.
The information scanned is then made accessible “to a limited few in our office and IT … and stored on a secure server with no plans to share further,” said Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs. IFC executive board members and OFSA staff can access this information for an indefinite period, according to IFC President Dan Freshman ’12.
“We haven’t used it yet for any means, and I have a tough time thinking when we would use it, mainly because you really can’t prove anything there,” Freshman said. He said that if a freshman had an ID scanned at an event, the information held by OFSA and IFC leaders would not prove whether or not the student entered the house.
“The use of the scanners will improve [the Greek community’s] management of risk by properly identifying the class year of attendees ... It adds a form of confirmation regarding age and helps them keep a record of their guest list,” Apgar said.
While chapter presidents acknowledged that the scanners provide an efficient way of identifying freshmen and abiding by new University regulations, they said that the scanners are still far from perfect and prone to malfunctioning with poor Wi-Fi connections around fraternity houses.
Psi Upsilon President Oliver English ’12 said that the first few times his house used the scanners, they did not work, forcing him to use a laptop to check each person into social events.
Similarly, Sigma Chi President Chris Sanders ’13 said most fraternities use the scanners “in places most applicable to holding lines, so it’s been a challenge finding a place where you can use them while you have control over property.”
In addition to posing technical issues, the scanners have been challenging to implement at crowded social events, Sanders said.
“It’s time consuming for it to load. When you’re trying to get people inside and they’re antsy, [the scanners] take quite a bit of time to move the line forward,” he said.
Chapter leaders also said they are concerned there are only 10 scanners available to borrow from the OFSA — a limit that could cap the number of social events that can be hosted in a weekend.
“With the number of events that can be registered, there’s going to be more than 10 events on a given Friday,” Phi Tau President Ken Babcock ’13 said. Babcock added that fraternity presidents and social chairs must go to Willard Straight Hall to pick up the scanners each time they need them, “presenting another logistical issue that needs to be solved.”
Freshman acknowledged the issues that have cropped up, calling the scanners “a work in progress.” He said, however, that IFC has been relaying feedback from chapter presidents to the OFSA, which is working on improving the technology.
Freshman said that originally, the IFC proposed adding a demarcation on students’ ID cards to mark their class year — a plan that he found out violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The ID scanners, though imperfect, comply with FERPA regulations.
“Ideally, when the scanners do work, I think they do a really good job of making sure that freshmen are not in registered events. Once we can figure out all the issues with the technology, we have a pretty easy and clear way to run social events,” Freshman said.
The scanners have also provided an efficient means of addressing judicial infractions.
“I think we had one event that I know of that was shut down, but it was done in a very smooth and conclusive manner; in case of questioning, we had that evidence there immediately,” Freshman said.
Kara Miller, assistant dean of students at the OFSA, said that the scanners would not hurt fraternities if they complied with University regulations.
“It can only help them if they’re using them correctly, following rules and not letting freshmen in,” Miller said. “If something was called into question but [the house] was using them doing what they’re supposed to do, there’s information backing that up.”
Some freshmen expressed surprise at how much the scanners share. Though some were aware that the scanner showed fraternity officers their name, class year and whether or not they were 21, many did not know that this information is subsequently shared with OFSA staff.
Becca Lampert ’15 expressed concern about the scanners violating students’ privacy.
“The idea of someone having a master list of everyone who went to a party is a little bit intimidating,” she said. “I’m no longer just responsible for myself now when I go out — I’m also responsible for the frats because they can get in trouble for my actions. That definitely makes me think twice about where I choose to go on the weekends.”
Christina Hardin ’15 agreed, calling the scanners “invasive.”
“I don’t like the idea that my relatively brief time at a party is permanently documented and that someone has access to what I choose to do on the weekends at any time,” Hardin said.
Others saw the scanners as a strong deterrent from attending fraternity events.
“I know I won’t be able to get into a frat if they’re card swiping, so I just won’t go,” Zoe Carlson ’15 said.
Freshman acknowledged students’ concerns about the ID scanners intruding on their privacy, yet maintained that the scanners are a beneficial tool for fraternities as they adapt to new regulations.
“I do recognize the concern that people don’t want others knowing where they’ve been on a certain night, but you wouldn’t be able to access that unless you have handed your ID card in; it’s not a way to look up any student you want,” Freshman said. “It’s by far the best option now.”
Margaret Yoder contributed reporting to this article.