This image is making the rounds on the Internet. At left is a Sophomore pledge to Cornell's Sigma Phi fraternity; at right, a Senior brother. And apparently what we're looking at is some part of the classy hazing process.
That's really all anyone knows at the moment, since neither party has responded to calls at this time. As IvyGate writes,
The Sigma Phi hazing process is apparently notorious for unpleasantness. According to one of our sources, the hazing also involved locking pledges in the frat's in-house squash courts for hours without food or drink, and forcing them to sit naked on ice blocks until their gonads turned to ice pops. It's not clear if white students were also obliged to stand around half-naked holding makeshift shields or mirrors or sun reflectors or whatever it is they're making him hold. There was only one black pledge, and you're looking at him.
But if a picture's worth a thousand words, it may prove difficult for even a thousand of them to explain this one.
UPDATE: Okay, they explained it. Writes the pledge in the picture,
First and foremost, I would like to assure you that any racially offensive interpretations of the photograph are vastly inaccurate. Also, the Sigma Phi society does not condone hazing and as such, the "Sigma Phi hazing process" which you refer to several times in your email does not exist. The rumors about the content of the photograph are just that, rumors. I am more than happy to put them to rest.
This past summer, I remained on campus for the first summer session to take classes along with several other brothers in the house. One afternoon, a representative of Cornell University requested a picture of my brother, Eric Stern (seen sitting in the chair). Another brother in the house volunteered to take the picture and came to my room requesting a helping hand. I had just awoken from a nap and did not bother to dress myself before walking downstairs to our living room where the photo was taken. The photographer asked me to hold the light reflector that can be seen in the photograph – a trick used by experienced photographers to highlight the subject of their work. The image that has been questioned was actually a test shot taken by the photographer to get a sense of the lighting in the room.
I would like to stress that this image was not intended to have any racial undertones and its unfortunate that people choose to interpret it that way. The Sigma Phi Society is one of the more diverse houses on campus – racially, religiously, financially, etc… During my time as a rush and now as a brother in the house, I did/have not felt racially targeted in any way. If you are looking for a story surrounding a racial injustice, I can confidently say that there is nothing to be found here. In addition, my decision to assist my brothers in taking this photograph was not influenced by any pledging protocol – I was already a brother in this house when this photo was taken. Again, I appreciate your concern in this matter but the rumors surrounding this photograph are unfounded and inaccurate.
Good to know. Like IvyGate, we apologize for helping to perpetuate a misconception, and thanks for clarifying.