How does Greek Life affect the college experience at the University of Michigan?
The Untold Reality of Fraternities
By Alexandra Scheib
Interviewee bio: This fraternity President from out of state knew what he was getting into when he came to Michigan and rushed a fraternity, but he had no idea the kinds of connections he would make and experiences he would have. The things he has learned as President his Junior and Sophomore years have been some of the most valuable lessons he has learned in college.
When this anonymous fraternity president first arrived at the University of Michigan, he had no idea what amazing experiences Greek Life would provide him with. He knew he was social, liked the kinds of connections Greek life entails, and that his older brother had enjoyed his time in a fraternity at a different school. During COVID, with little to no social outlets, he reached out to an older member of the fraternity who attended his high school, met some of that fraternity's brothers, and the rest was history.
Greek life has been a huge part of his experience at Michigan. He loves the balance of Michigan Greek life that he believes is especially prevalent in his fraternity. He talks about studying together and especially elaborates on their mentorship program where Freshmen pair with upperclassmen to help balance academics and learn material that they didn’t understand from their lectures. He served as rush-chair his Sophomore Fall, but when it came time to run for President in the Winter, he knew it was something he wanted. As a student in the College of Engineering, this role, which takes up much of his time, only holds one line on his resume. He loves being a fraternity President for the brotherhood, and cherishes the connections he has been able to make.
He knew the general perception of fraternities well before college but thinks coming here has definitely changed that. In high school, he didn’t really pay attention, but understood the stereotypes: parties, tailgates, and hookup culture. This didn’t sway him. After all, he liked parties. Michigan has pretty prominent Greek life, but it is nothing like what we see in the media. He goes further to talk about how a lot of people will have positive experiences with Greek life if they give it a chance.
Sometimes, he argues, people are quick to cancel frats for one person. He admits that there are a lot of bad and shameful things that sometimes get out of hand too quickly in all Greek life. However, if a fraternity has good leadership, it will run well. To back this up, he provides evidence of his fraternity's own process. This past Winter, his fraternity had to go through the long process of removing a member, which involved social probation and numerous discussions with the member. When this behavior continued, their honor board sat down. This member was allowed to speak his side of the story, and they presented accounts of events from numerous other witnesses. Ultimately this member was removed from the fraternity. As President, he believes this was fully the right decision. People like this member are an exception to what Greek life is all about, but are unfortunately why Greek life gets a bad reputation in the media. We see scandals of brothers dying from being forced to drink too much, or girls getting roofied at parties, but the media often portrays the worst.
When asked if every brother in his fraternity was a genuinely good guy, he said no. There’s about 110 guys in his fraternity, and let’s be honest, no group of 110 guys can all be good people, but a lot of them are. Through good leadership, everyone is kept in check. The precedent set forth from removing this member last Winter is a huge part of this check. What would it say about his fraternity if they let that behavior stand? How might these men act then? Furthermore, being a part of a fraternity is for life. How might these behaviors they learned in college impact their futures? Leadership especially has a stake in making sure this fraternity stays in check. He doesn’t want anybody to get hurt, but especially because the harm committed by any single member of the fraternity ultimately is on his hands.
Most people don’t really get to know the guys in fraternities and the negative perception is built from a lack of experience. There’s always going to be people and fraternities that fit the stereotypes that the news portrays, and that is a societal problem. But more often than not, fraternities are just groups of guys who wanted to make some connections in college. His main lesson is not to follow the stigma, and to go experience it for yourself. There will be fraternities that you disagree with, but there’s also probably one you will enjoy. He loves his fraternity for the friendships he’s built, leadership opportunities, and networking experiences it has provided. People would be shocked by Greek life if they gave it a chance, he explains.
The Self-fulfilling Prophecy of Homogeneity in Greek Life
By Michael Hartt
* names have been changed to protect the interviewee’s identities
Bio: Lindsey Smith* is a queer senior whose college experience has been shaped by Greek Life. From her rush experience, the year she spent living in her sorority’s house, and role as a chapter officer, she has developed a unique perspective on the impact of Greek Life on the University of Michigan’s student body, especially amongst those who share her marginalized position.
The importance of diversity in organizations has entirely shifted since the first Greek life institution in the United States was founded in 1775. Today, many Americans not only expect diversity to be integrated into their communities, but also see it as an important asset of the organizations they are affiliated with. This has led many to question the largely homogenous Greek life atmosphere on most American college campuses — not only because of the impact it has on students involved, but also because of how it affects campus culture.
Lindsey Smith*, a senior at the University of Michigan, has experienced Greek life from a wide variety of perspectives: as a freshman rushee, a sorority member, and as an officer, all of which she was out as a queer individual.
From the beginning of her rush process, she said that it was apparent how closely the Greek life experience was linked to identity. Due to the sorority stereotypes that have long permeated in popular culture, Smith and her friends felt they needed to look and act in certain ways in order to get a “bid”, or an offer to join a sorority.
While this did not faze a few of her friends who had traits that were more akin to the sorority ideal, for some people she was rushing with, the desire to conform bore an emotional toll. Smith described how upset some of her friends were when they did not get the results they hoped for during the rush process, likely due to their personal divergence from what they believed sororities were looking for.
“There were certain things we noticed with a few girls who were either overweight or had personalities that were (likely considered by the sororities to be) quirky (or) extroverted,” Smith said. “We would go through rush and both have great conversations at the same sororities. And then we would hear back the next day, (and they) would be crying in (their) bed.”
From these experiences, Smith was motivated to use her later position as a chapter officer to increase its adherence to diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. Through implementing required unconscious bias training prior to rush, working to make traditionally heteronormative date parties more inclusive for queer individuals, and regularly elevating the voices of the chapter’s marginalized individuals, she said noticeable changes in her organization’s culture could be ascertained.
However, through this experience, she also realized how futile some of her DEI efforts were in a system that is grounded in homogeneity. For instance, she admitted that some progress was made in recruiting more diverse rushees during her tenure but the results were limited. Regardless of how much work she and her peers put into building a more diverse pledge class, finding enough marginalized individuals who were interested in joining a sorority was always a struggle.
She connected this phenomenon back to her own experience going through the rush process, and described the intimidating nature of rushing an organization that you don’t see yourself represented in. The same perception she had always had about sororities, as places where only wealthy, white, gender-conforming, and straight girls were welcome, was likely the same image that many potential new members saw.
This image, she said, not only makes the members of each sorority chapter strive to be more homogenous, but also instigates a self-fulfilling cycle, in which those who fit the sorority mold — popularized through social media and pop-culture — are more likely to rush and further perpetuate homogeneity.
“I feel like that image is still there. Because, honestly, that's how a lot of sororities still are… I think some of them are trying to make change, but a lot of people don't rush if they have other identities. That's the other part of it,” Smith said. “My sorority can go through all of the unconscious bias training, all of the diversity, equity, [and] inclusion training, to set ourselves up [to be able to rush in a way that is inclusive of all identities], but it's not going to happen if they [many members of marginalized communities] don't want to rush. The image surrounding sororities is already deferring those people that could be great fits, or could be the ones to change the system.”
Because of this self-fulfilling prophecy, Smith said, all marginalized students are more likely to be divided from the events that are supposed to define the experience of attending the University of Michigan. They are more likely to be isolated from quintessential traditions like welcome week parties, football tailgates, and winter-fest events.
Holistically, she said that this creates unity and community for those involved in it, but for everyone else, a widespread sense of being disregarded.
“In general, it (divides people) into segments. If you're in Greek life, you kind of know all other people in Greek life, either directly or through other people. And that happens, because you go to the same places, you go to the same parties. You kind of create an isolated community.”
Overall, while Smith does not regret the friends or impact she has made in Greek life, she is cognizant of the large-scale changes the system must make in order for the tradition of homogeneity to be broken. She is hopeful that, eventually, Greek life chapters will be representative of all students, and that fewer will feel disaffected by their exclusionary practices.
Does the Social Responsibility Committee Keep Us Safer?
By Lilah Shandel
Bio: These members of Greek life are tasked with protecting their fellow students, but is that the best way to go about keeping Michigan safe? A Consider writer has interviewed three members of sororities, two from the social responsibility committee and one sorority president, who have shared their experiences regarding safety protocols in Greek life.
*All names have been changed to preserve the anonymity of these students.
Sarah* walked from frat house to frat house, wondering the same thing about each party: are the students there safe? As a member of the Social Responsibility Committee (SRC), a group of trained students who volunteer to travel between fraternity parties, making sure attendees are safe is a top priority, ensuring each event meets standards set forth by the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association. Similar to many other members of SRC, Sarah felt guilted into applying for the role by her sorority because no one else wanted to do it. According to the SRC bylaws, every Interfraternity Council (IFC)-registered chapter is mandated to have at least one SRC checker, but no more than four. She mentioned how she has heard that some chapters make SRC a “points” opportunity, which would help those who apply to the position to improve their standing in their own sorority or fraternity, since there is little incentive to apply. The responsibilities that the position entails, including closely inspecting fraternity parties to ensure they are following IFC and SRC standards, as well as a requirement to give up a night of going out with friends, makes the position of an SRC checker undesirable for many students.
“Some people were really into [SRC],” Sarah told me, “but there were so many other checkers, like me, who just didn’t care at all.” This in and of itself creates a problem of inconsistent and uninterested checkers, which could create unsafe environments for students.
While she ultimately enjoyed being on SRC, another student, Emma* only applied to SRC as a favor to someone else in her chapter, not knowing she was the only applicant and would automatically get the position. Emma said some of the advantages of this position were that she got to learn a lot about the social policies at Michigan, and she’s still in touch with some of the people she met through her monthly rounds and weekly meetings.
The evident lack of interest in SRC seems to have led to inconsistencies in the checking process. Sarah said she witnessed social policy violations often, but “it really just depended on who was doing rounds. When I did it and was checking with more chill people, we just turned a blind eye.” She mentioned that most violations weren’t anything she thought to be extreme; most violations she witnessed were fraternities having hard alcohol, or not having water or snacks out for guests. Another violation that Emma witnessed on her rounds was the lack of student “sobers” who must be clearly identified. Sobers are students from each chapter hosting the party who are not allowed to drink and serve as a resource to ensure all of the attendees are safe. This poses a problem for attendants who may not be able to find help if or when they need it.
According to Sarah, when a violation of the Social Policy occurs, SRC checkers tell the members of the fraternity to fix the issue that they found. Checkers go back to the house later that night to see if the issue has been resolved, and then they take note of the incident on a Google form. The Social Responsibility Committee Bylaws state that the SRC “seeks to ensure a safe social environment for members of the Fraternity and Sorority Community and their guests”, but Sarah feels like many of the rules feel unrealistic to her.
“I didn’t really like [SRC] because it felt so hypocritical…We were going around and reprimanding these kids, when I was going out and doing the exact same things [that they were doing],” she said. “I felt like it wasn’t my job to be the one to check on these frats and sororities,” Sarah said.
Kate*, former president of a sorority, remarked that “at tailgates, we have all the snacks and bottled water and everything, but people are still bringing in alcohol and drinking too much and blacking out. We have everything we need to pass our SRC check, but the things they are trying to prevent are still occurring.”
As president, Kate would receive copies of the Google form that SRC fills out after both checks were conducted at her chapter’s registered event. She said that at one registered event, SRC’s form showed no violations when they did their rounds, but one girl in her chapter ended up going to the hospital later that night for drinking too much at the fraternity. While fraternities that are disaffiliated from the university are required to sign a form agreeing to abide by IFC’s social policy, Kate says that they only sign them “so [my chapter] shows up to their events. I know many disaffiliated frats who flaunt the rules a lot more because they aren’t held to IFC’s standards.”
Both Kate and Sarah agree that SRC does not make Greek Life a safer environment for Michigan students. Kate makes the point that SRC does have good intentions, she just doesn’t think they come to fruition.
Sarah says that most fraternities have figured out so many ways to get around the Social Policy – the most common way is for a frat to not register their events. She said, “Overall, I just think that their expectations for Greek Life are really unrealistic, and put SRC checkers in an uncomfortable position. We’re expected to tattle on people our age, while [most of us] are doing the exact same thing.”
Transferring Into Greek Life: A Leap of Faith
By: Talia Belowich
Interviewee #1 bio: This interviewee is a junior in STAMPS who transferred to the University of Michigan in Fall 2021. She rushed at her previous school, then transferred into the U of M chapter upon arrival.
Interviewee #2 bio: This interviewee is a junior from Michigan who transferred to the University of Michigan in Fall 2021. During her first semester on campus, she transferred into her sorority’s U of M chapter and lived in the house.
While the University of Michigan’s is far from it, The University of Alabama’s viral rush process is of the utmost intensity; To an outsider like myself, the process seems to be prized as highly as academics. Sorority chapters are desired for their status and social scenes, and many potential new members regard their rush decision as a transformative college experience. Sorority chapters are different at every school, perhaps not according to the values established by each sorority’s national headquarters, but in its membership which, let’s face it, is a far more influential component to choosing a sorority. Via transferring, girls may find themselves in a sorority of entirely different character and values than their original organization. Transferring into Greek Life is highly revealing of the problematic policies that sororities and fraternities uphold due to the strict no re-rushing policy. At the same time, transferring into a sorority can help to aid the already daunting changes that come with transferring schools.
A University of Michigan (U of M) student, who wishes to remain anonymous, shares her experience about transferring into an undisclosed U of M sorority:
“My new chapter had a very different feel than my original chapter,” she explained. “Given there are many sororities on campus, it would be unlikely and coincidental for the chapter I transferred into to have a very similar feeling to the chapter I was in before. The dynamic of the house and girls were different, and I had the sense that if I had rushed on this campus initially, I probably wouldn’t have ended up in that chapter…. [transferring into that sorority] probably had more of a negative impact on how I felt about transferring to my new school than it did a positive one.”
Transferring into a sorority requires inserting yourself into an organization of people with pre-existing connections. Being new is difficult for everyone, and the success of integrating into a new group of people is largely dependent upon the cooperation and help of others. Rush is an opportunity to meet new people and find where you belong; While it may be problematic and stressful, the rush process at least offers some guidance in the right direction for finding a community of similar students. The inability to re-rush once initiated into a chapter fully counteracts the supposed purpose of the rush process. This interviewee further discusses the problems associated with blindly transferring into a different chapter.
“To not allow re-rushing is to center sororities around such a silly concept – the secrecy, traditions, and more behind-closed-doors aspects of sororities. I think it distracts from the true purpose, and it also makes it so that girls are forced to attempt to connect with people who might not really be their crowd, and vice-versa,” she said. “This makes the process of transferring more difficult than it already is, and leaves a lot of room for new chapters to be exclusive, unwelcoming, or thrown off by the addition of someone who they don’t know or potentially don’t connect with. I think overall not being allowed to re-rush can lead to a lot of inauthenticity to try to make a connection work – on behalf of the new addition to a chapter and the chapter itself.”
However, in cases where sorority chapters are largely consistent at both schools, being a member of a sorority from the get-go can have positive impacts on a student’s transfer experience. Another interviewee, who we will call Interviewee #2, discusses her positive experience of transferring into a U of M sorority.
“Coming into a completely new group of people I was actually [shocked] at how inviting and nice everyone was,” she describes. “All 65 girls were so inclusive and really helped me feel more at home which made my overall transfer experience and transition so much smoother. I got to live in the house which also was a game changer with coming into a new school. I'm so happy that I rushed at my other school because it was a different experience and either way would have helped build my character, but it did make it easier to have a foot in the door with a community already at Michigan.”
Overall, the success of transferring into a new sorority depends on luck and the nature of the sorority you are transferring into or from, since no two chapters of the same sorority can be exactly the same. It’s rare that a chapter at Michigan will be the same as it is at another school. But, if it does work out, transferring into a sorority can make switching schools a much smoother and more enjoyable process.