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Cornell fraternity president charged with sexual assault

Cornell University’s Ithaca campus. (Courtesy of Cornell University Photography )
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A fraternity president at Cornell University was charged with sexual assault after an alleged attack at the Psi Upsilon house on campus last weekend.

Wolfgang Ballinger, a 21-year-old junior from New York, was charged with first-degree attempted rape, first-degree criminal sex act with a helpless victim, and sexual misconduct, according to charges listed with the Tompkins County, N.Y., jail.

Ballinger did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday. James A. Baker, the lawyer representing him, said, “Wolfgang Ballinger is not guilty of the charges that have been filed against him.  His innocence will be established at the proper time and in the proper place–which is in the courts,  not in the media.  Beyond that, we have no comment.”

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On Monday, campus police alerted students that an alleged sexual assault had been reported to have occurred about 2 a.m. Sunday morning, after a woman was led to a bedroom at the house, according to the Cornell Daily Sun.

The university placed the fraternity on interim suspension that day as well.

The chapter has had a series of problems in recent years, according to the Daily Sun, including hazing violations.

The university’s Interfraternity Council unanimously passed a measure Tuesday, and its president, Blake Brown, sent a statement: “The Interfraternity Council leadership, in partnership with all 36 chapters, unanimously agreed to reaffirm our community’s commitment to eradicating sexual violence from our campus. To take a lead in this effort, the Interfraternity Council mandated that all fraternities be trained in consent education, sexual assault prevention, and bystander intervention training by two student-led organizations, Cayuga’s Watchers and Consent Ed, by the end of the academic year in order to be recognized as an active chapter.

“Through education and training, the IFC and chapter leaders hope to mitigate sexual violence within the fraternity system and throughout our campus community at large.”

Cayuga’s Watchers is a student-run group that works to minimize drinking-related problems on campus and teach others how to be safe at parties.

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The national headquarters of Psi Upsilon suspended the Cornell chapter and is cooperating with the university during its investigation, with staff members traveling to Ithaca, in Upstate New York, to help.

“Sexual assault, and any form of sexual harassment, is against our policy and in opposition of the values of Psi Upsilon,” Thomas Fox, the fraternity’s executive director, said in a written statement. “Our chapter is cooperating with Cornell’s investigation into this matter and any members involved will be held accountable. The Chi Chapter at Cornell has a distinguished history with the University and we are committed to continuing to be a benefit to Cornell and the Ithaca community.”

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Psi Upsilon’s chapter at Cornell was chartered in 1876. Psi Upsilon has 28 active chapters and colonies in the United States and Canada.

The Cornell University Police Department announced that “with the assistance of the victim, police were able to identify Ballinger as the perpetrator. At the request of the police through his attorney, Ballinger turned himself in to Cornell Police investigators.”

He was arraigned in Ithaca City Court and remanded to the Tompkins County Jail in lieu of $25,000 cash bail or $50,000 bond.

Ballinger is due back in court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing.

In a video posted on YouTube in December — titled “A short video on a longer journey” — Ballinger said he grew up in a very large family in a very small town in upstate New York.

He described himself as a hospitality major at Cornell whose parents didn’t go to college. He talked about what he had learned at schools, such as creativity and working with his hands, and from his father – the value of hard work. His father owns bars and nightclubs across the United States and Canada, he said.

He talked about his entrepreneurial goals, including real estate and managing and owning a restaurant, and reminisced about his first job: building and manning a cookie stand.

Cornell’s president, Elizabeth Garrett, is the first woman to lead the prestigious Ivy League school, and before she took over last summer, she spoke to The Washington Post about student safety and Greek organizations on campus, among other subjects:

On student safety, which has become a prominent topic as reports of campus sexual assault are on the rise nationwide, she said university leaders must draw a firm line: “Assault, intolerance, bigotry and harassment will not be tolerated,” she said, pounding a table for emphasis. “Will not be tolerated in any form.”
She said Cornell plans to participate in a joint campus initiative with other members of the prestigious Association of American Universities to survey students on sexual assault and other campus climate questions. She said she puts great stock in sexual assault prevention programs, including those that teach bystanders to intervene in troublesome situations.
Regarding Greek student organizations, which have come under scrutiny at Cornell and elsewhere because of hazing and other problems, Garrett noted that she joined the sorority Chi Omega when she was an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma. She said the public should not overlook that fraternities and sororities provide students with numerous positive experiences, including charitable activities.

On Saturday, she said in a written statement: “I am deeply disturbed by the allegations of sexual assault involving the president of Psi Upsilon. Sexual violence has no place at Cornell, and if these allegations are substantiated, those involved will be held accountable. When we were notified of these allegations on Monday, February 1, Psi Upsilon was immediately placed on interim suspension pending the conclusion of a full investigation. Although I applaud the swift actions of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) to mandate additional training for its members, we will be considering what additional steps should be taken to ensure the Greek community at Cornell is living up to our institutional standard of excellence and respect for others.”