Last Friday, the University of Michigan Panhellenic Association began their Primary Recruitment Process — a process commonly referred to as “rush” where sororities recruit potential new members, also known as PNMs, for their organizations. And with it, a website containing the personal account of a former recruitment chair of an unnamed University sorority spread throughout the Greek life community.
In her account, the author recalls how she was ordered by her superiors in the sorority’s national organization to give the PNMs an “External Prescore” — based on their physical appearances as shown on their social media profiles — before PNMs even visited the house. This ranking continued, she said, throughout the recruitment process and beyond, when girls already in the sorority were ranked in order to be matched up with “stronger” or “weaker” candidates. The scores were on a scale of one to 10 and according to the author, were almost entirely based on superficial qualities.
The website that originally posted the letter no longer exists but it was downloaded as a Google document and is still being circulated. However, the identity of the author and the sorority in question have not been confirmed. The Michigan Daily reached out to the purported author, and the national office for the sorority of the potential author, but did not receive responses to requests for comment.
In an email to the University’s Panhel community obtained by The Daily, the Panhellenic Association originally dismissed the letter as a “student submission for a Creative Writing course at the University.” After backlash from the Greek community for a perceived lack of recognition of the issues raised in the document, Panhel sent another email apologizing for the apathy in their first email and assuring the community of their concern.
“The details of this article were degrading, crude, and concerning to many of our members,” the follow-up letter, also obtained by The Daily, reads. “We regret not indicating this damage in our former internal statement. Many of our leaders and community members have expressed their personal concern over the nature of the article and the implications and allegations it presents to our community.”
In an email interview with The Daily, Panhellenic Association President Skylar Garrett, an LSA senior, urged students emotionally affected by the letter to utilize campus resources, such as Counseling and Psychological Services and Wolverine Wellness. She also encouraged individuals with any information about the issues raised in the letter to come forward.
“We urge any student with information pertaining to the validity of the content in the article to report this information to the appropriate entity in order to contribute to an impartial and comprehensive evaluation,” Garrett wrote.
To combat the problematic recruitment methods described in the letter, Panhel encouraged all member organizations to examine their own rush processes.
“While the article claims to address one specific member organization, the impact of the content of the article reaches across our entire community,” they wrote. “Because of the widespread concern, we are encouraging all of our member organizations to review their recruitment practices and are continuing to update national organizations about specific University of Michigan campus dynamics.”
This response from Panhel comes after a semester of changes to Greek Life at the University. Last semester, the University announced all fraternities and sororities will transition to a winter rush system starting in January 2020. Prospective rushees will also have to have completed 12 credits at the University and be in good academic standing to participate in the rush process. Both the Interfraternity Council and Panhel responded with criticism to the announcement, saying the decision limits the opportunities available to new students.
The claims made in the letter have shaken PNMs and sorority members alike. An LSA freshman, who wished to remain anonymous due to how it might affect her rushing process, said she heard about the letter from current sorority members while rushing their house. She said she was disturbed by the contents of the letter, but not necessarily surprised.
“I sort of feel like I expected that out of some of the more popular sororities,” she said. “They would maybe judge people based on looks. I’ve heard at other schools, especially the Southern ones, about things like how they would brush up against you to see if you shaved your legs.”
The LSA freshman said she felt less worried about being ranked superficially after not being called back to “top-tier” sororities, but acknowledged that to some extent, she can’t be certain as to how chapter members are judging her.
“I feel like so many more of the sororities are judging based on looks after that information came out,” she said. “The girl who was writing the article kept saying that everyone was reassuring, ‘Oh everyone does this, this is just the way it goes, and all the sororities are looking at it like that.’ Who knows what they’re really looking for?”
One LSA sophomore, a current sorority member who wanted to remain anonymous, said she found the letter upsetting. Like the freshman, she said the whole rush process felt mysterious when she went through it.
“I was horrified and had trouble reading all the way through it, (I) felt very unsettled, (and I) also feel bad for girls within that particular sorority who might not know what they were getting themselves into when they joined because going through the rush process, it's so hard to understand if that culture exists or not,” she said.
Reading the letter, the sophomore said, brought up uncomfortable memories of her own rush experience.
“It did remind me a bit of rushing myself,” the sophomore said. “One girl made a comment to me, a girl in my rush line, at a later round, she said all the girls in the lines keep getting prettier and prettier at the sororities that she wanted. So, it did remind me of that comment … It (also) reminded me of the fact that people would change outfits during rush line depending on which house they were going onto … thinking that certain houses were more important than others which amplifies the ridiculous rank that occurs.”
The sophomore, now a sorority member herself, is on the other side of the recruitment process this year, and she admitted she’s caught herself thinking about appearances when rushing PNMs.
“I think they come into play only on the grounds of when I speak to a girl, I am influenced by what she looks like and what she’s wearing,” she said. “And I wish that that were not how human nature works and so that's something that I really consciously try to remember as I give feedback on my conversation and I understand that people, in general, are influenced by others’ appearances when they speak to them for only five minutes and then have to make a determination about that person's character.”
Some sorority members spoke out publicly following the release of the document. Public Policy junior Liz Fernandez wrote a response to the letter for Mentality Magazine, discussing how triggering and upsetting the contents of the letter are for girls struggling with insecurity. She urged Panhel to address these concerns more directly. Fernandez, emphasizing she was not speaking on behalf of any larger organization, said the letter reminded her of the insecurities she felt as a freshman rushing sororities.
“I was nervous they weren’t focusing on what I was saying and that they were more just focusing on what I looked like on the outside,” Fernandez said. “So, when I read that article, it brought me right back to rush in the process of thinking, when I walk into a house, ‘Are they looking at me or are they listening to me?’ That's something I struggled with.”
Fernandez said the letter also upset her because it reflected badly on all of Greek life, when in reality, she has felt loved and supported in her own sorority.
“Everyone knows that Greek life can be superficial, but it doesn't have to be that way, and I think it further enforced pre-existing stereotypes of what our organization is like, when in reality this isn’t an organization that makes me feel judged, it was an organization that saved me,” Fernandez said. “And I can't relay that enough, and especially because of the letter, people don't realize that the people in Greek life aren't always representative of a larger system.”
When asked what she would say to sorority members currently recruiting PNMs, Fernandez said to focus on making PNMs feel comfortable and secure, as well as focusing on their passions and personalities. To PNMs going through the rush process this week, Fernandez said to not lose hope.
“To girls that are rushing, don't be nervous about any of the crap that you read in the letter, because there are so many genuine girls that are out there and want you to feel safe on campus and feel like you have a home,” Fernandez said. “Whether you're in a sorority or not, there are people out there who value you for who you are on the inside, not the outside and care about your thoughts and feelings vs. what you dress like.”