For many students affiliated with Fraternity and Sorority Life across the U.S, a defining part of their experience is living in their chapter’s house. Many sororities even require members to live in their house for one year. However, with the University of Michigan’s decision to transition to winter recruitment this school year, many freshmen intending to join — and current members with obligations to fill their chapter’s house each year — are facing uncertainties about their housing situation for next year.
Starting fall 2019, students must have completed at least 12 credits at the University and be in good academic and behavioral standing to participate in fraternity or sorority recruitment, meaning incoming freshmen are unable to join the organizations during their first semester on campus.
The University made the decision to transition recruitment to the winter last March as part of the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan for first-year students. Following previous Interfraternity Council suspension of all social activities for two months following several cases of alcohol abuse, as well as multiple hazing and sexual assault allegations.
Only freshmen are guaranteed on-campus housing by the University, leaving the majority of upperclassmen to live off-campus. The increasing number of students struggling to find affordable housing close to campus has made the housing search more competitive, often pushing students to sign leases by October or November for the following year.
Winter recruitment, coupled with the nature of the University housing search process, has created housing anxieties for students. Among them is Nursing freshman Gabriella Ceritano. She told The Daily she doesn’t know if she should search for housing now or to wait until after the recruitment process is over next semester.
“I’ve heard a lot of kids sign their leases first semester, so it worries me about like what if I drop (recruitment)?” Ceritano said. “Then it’s a concern for me to find a house to live in. But if I don’t (drop), it doesn’t really matter, because you live in your sorority house your sophomore year. It’s all just a bit concerning.”
Ceritano said she hasn’t heard anything from the Panhellenic Association, individual sororities, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life or University Housing regarding what she should do.
“No one has given any advice or anything,” Ceritano said. “I feel like it’d be good to have some advice on how to handle this from the housing office or maybe people who do leases. I don’t really know how to find it.”
LSA freshman Margaret Barber said she’s excited to begin the recruitment process at the University and would like to live in a sorority house. Barber said she intends to have a backup plan, but she’s not rushing into any big decisions.
“I’m taking the time to adjust to everything, but I was thinking of trying to come up with a backup plan when my friends who aren’t rushing start researching (housing),” Barber said. “I could also research with them some possibilities if rush doesn’t work out. Right now, I don’t have any idea.”
Similar to Ceritano, Barber said many of her friends who plan to take part in recruitment don’t know what they will do yet. However, she claimed there’s been talk of a safety net for students who may, for any reason, drop out of the recruitment process or who do not get a bid from a sorority or fraternity.
“It’s kind of up in the air,” Barber said. “But we had a bay-area Michigan send-off thing, and there were school housing coordinators talking to us, and one said that they would help us out if you plan on rushing and it doesn’t work out, that there’d still be housing available.”
In a statement to The Daily, Nicole Banks, assistant dean of Students and interim director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said the University’s office of Fraternity and Sorority Life has engaged with stakeholders inside and outside the University in anticipation of this shift. Banks explained there is a team of staff, students and representatives dedicated to finding housing for students interested in recruitment, all in collaboration with University Housing.
“After extensive research and review of multiple years of data, the team concluded that there is ample availability of housing well into the winter semester,” Banks wrote. “The Dean of Students office will also provide support to students searching for housing and FSL is teaming up with the First Year Experience and the Beyond the Diag program to promote information about taking time to sign your lease, among other opportunities.”
FSL advised students against signing a lease preemptively.
“If a student is interested in joining a fraternity or sorority with a housing requirement, they should wait to sign a lease until after recruitment has ended,” Banks wrote.
Despite this advice, LSA junior Michael Smith, vice president of the fraternity Delta Tau Delta, explained most students usually sign their leases by November because available housing during the winter semester is typically limited, expensive or far from campus.
If current freshmen decide to sign leases in the fall semester, Smith explained winter recruitment can cause problems for fraternities and sororities on campus that have come to rely on sophomore tenants to fill their chapter’s house.
“The following year runs into complications because we can’t just have an empty house,” Smith said. “So, we have to have people living there more years than they were expecting, as juniors or seniors which has become uncustomary at Michigan, or we just have a severe lack of tenants.”
According to Smith, the Delta Tau Delta house is owned by a board of alumni that maintains the property. Without enough occupants in the house the chapter’s future could be jeopardized, Smith said.
“Without a sufficient number of tenants, they don’t have the money to maintain the property,” Smith said. “Ultimately, that could result in our chapter losing its national charter, and just ceasing to exist on campus, because we’re not financially viable anymore.”
Interfraternity Council President and LSA junior, Nick Wasik, did not respond to requests for comment by time of publication. Panhellenic Association President and LSA senior, Taylor Fegan, declined to comment.