The past year has been a turbulent one for the University of Michigan’s Greek life community.
One year ago, members of former UM fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu, along with other Greek life members, caused about $430,000 in damages to Treetops Ski Resort in Gaylord, Michigan — stirring national news and creating a conversation on campus about the value of Greek life.
In September, UM President Mark Schlissel called the school’s first-ever all-chapter meeting of Greek life, where he told students that the current culture perpetuated by Greek organizations “devalues” a UM degree.
But, amid these controversies, students and administrators have been working on a long-term solution to the Greek life crisis.
This week, UM announced the creation of a 30-member task force to address these issues and create comprehensive goals and solutions for the Greek life community, which comprises about 23% of the undergraduate student body.
“On our campus and on campuses throughout the country, it is a vitally important time to be looking at this,” said Laura Blake Jones, UM’s dean of students. “The pattern of concerning behaviors in fraternities and sororities across the country is evident and at the forefront of conversation.”
Led by UM seniors Alexander Krupiak and Madeline Walsh, the past presidents of the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association, respectively, and UM senior Kelly Gee, president of the Multicultural Greek Council, the task force will work with nine subcommittees to address topics of sexual misconduct, diversity, management of chapter environments and risks, and parent involvement, among other areas.
“For me, it wasn’t just the ski trip incidents but a laundry list of issues happening within Greek life that made us pause to look at where we were at, and where we needed to improve,” Krupiak said in a press release.
Jones, who convened the task force, said UM has been working on promoting the philanthropic qualities of fraternities and sororities for years, and this task force is years in the making. Additionally, students began working over the summer to start considering long term solutions for the community.
Students involved in Greek organizations at UM are 40% more likely of experiencing sexual assault, according to UM’s Campus Climate Survey released over the summer. Jones said several of the nine subcommittees will look at this issue specifically.
Several initiatives are already topics of discussion: having live-in adults, who could likely be UM graduate student instructors, in fraternity houses to provide advice and guidance, and creating a delayed rush system.
“There’s certainly pros and cons to (the delayed rush system), and while it would allow people more time to make decisions and perhaps they would make more informed choice, it also would create a situation where if we were waiting until the sophomore year or winter semester, students wouldn’t find their affinity group, or wouldn’t know if they have time to make housing decisions,” Jones said.
She added that delaying rush could also prolong a period of heavy partying that occurs at the beginning of the year “where everyone is trying to throw the most successful party.”
At Schlissel’s meeting with all chapters of Greek life in September, The Michigan Daily reported that he emphasized the dilapidating effects of “party culture” on the UM community — exhibited in a viral “I’m Shmacked” video distributed in 2012.
“The value of their degrees are gonna go down because the reputation of the University of Michigan won’t be the excitement in the Big House or our teams doing well under our fantastic new coach,” Schlissel said. “It’s not gonna be the kids who receive the Rhodes Scholarships and the Fulbright Scholarships, and the famous professors who do the work that you’re going to get reflected on for, or the National Medal for the Arts that our faculty won this past week. It’s going to be the ‘Shmacked’ videos. So it’s really up to you what the value of your education is going to be, what the reputation of this institution’s going to be.”
The meeting, which included Jones, Krupiak, Walsh, Gee and E. Royster Harper, the vice president for student life, was met with mixed reactions from Greek Life members. The Michigan Daily reported students coughed loudly as Schlissel spoke, in an effort to purposefully disrupt the meeting.
But the student leaders emphasized a need for the Greek community to come together to change this culture — just as the task force aims to do.
“Think for a second about how much your chapter means to you,” Krupiak said at the meeting in September. “I know it means a hell of a lot to me … But when students sit here and blatantly disrespect the leaders of our University and fellow students like myself and the three behind me, it’s flat-out embarrassing to say I’m a member of Greek life today.”
-Jennifer Calfas, Michigan Radio Newsroom