Viewpoint: Does Greek Life uphold its values?

BY CATHERINE BERGIN

Published September 21, 2014

“So, how has your Greek Life chapter been helping out the greater community lately?” I overheard a fraternity member asking my sorority sister at a mixer. Just kidding, nobody asked that. Truth be told, I didn’t join a sorority to help my GPA, play with rescue dogs or to wash cars in the name of disease research. I joined because I knew it would be fun. I would meet friends. I would have things to do on the weekends and have parties to go to whenever I wanted.

I’ll admit, the “Michigan Greek Life Strategic Plan” is a little dramatic. While I agree that it “enhances the undergraduate experience for its members,” I would disagree that Greek Life is “the best possible reflection of the University” or that its members “truly live the values upon which our historic organizations were founded” (I’m pretty sure head-butting walls until they have significant holes in them is not one of these values). If Greek Life members were polled on what these actual “values” are, I’m sure many would reply with blank stares, “What?” or “No idea.” This is not to say that fraternity and sorority members are disinterested, dumb or clueless, but perhaps that these individual organizations and chapters are not doing their part to uphold the principles on which they were founded or instilling these values into their members. I’m taking a closer look at a few of Michigan’s “Greek Life Strategic Goals and Objectives” to see how closely our community is (or is not) honoring them.

1. “Promote congruence and alignment of actions with our organizations’ values.”

It’s no wonder that “each year thousands of young women and men seek membership in sororities and fraternities on college campuses throughout the United States and Canada.” These organizations are famous for their “legendary commitments to friendship, sisterhood, brotherhood and loyalty,” all aspects that I have undeniably experienced — the “brotherhood” aspect still pending. I have become incredibly close with my sorority as a whole, and feel almost like family with many. What I feel more distant from, however, is the “expectation to uphold the ritual, values, mission and aims of the respective organization.” In fact, I really have no idea what my sorority’s mission is. I just know that I am part of a sorority that has many girls that are outgoing, fun, kind and outspoken.

Michigan Greek Life’s “shared values within our community include service, leadership, scholarship, friendship, respect, human dignity and a lifelong commitment to the organization.” Service is certainly stressed throughout my chapter and Greek Life as a whole on Michigan’s campus. Most sorority events can only be attended by members who have fulfilled the mandatory community service hours, usually six a semester. We receive weekly e-mails from our community service chair listing upcoming service opportunities, as well as other ways to get involved with the larger community as a whole. Sororities and fraternities on campus often support each other’s initiatives by attending respective events in the name of fundraising, such as a dinner held at a sorority house or a carwash at a fraternity — how clean the cars actually get, I don’t know.

The “friendship,” “sisterhood” and “lifelong commitment” that Greek Life helps facilitate was accurately encapsulated when a senior member of my sorority foresaw that, because of her membership, she will have “way too many bridesmaids.”

It is required “that members whose actions are not aligned with the organization’s expectations are held accountable to change or face dismissal,” and I, as well as many of my sisters, can attest to this first hand. Whether it is overconsumption of alcohol, acting out of line in anyway or irresponsible behavior, the punishment is always the same: the basement. Once there, a council goes over the situation you are being held for and works to find the cause of it, as well as a punishment based on its severity. Whether it is issuing an apology, writing a reflection paper, or increasing service hours, the system usually reaches its goal, to not have repeat offenders. I, for one, would not like to go to the basement again. Ever.

2. “Encourage chapters to develop and maintain a healthy status and healthy relationships.”

In terms of being a “healthy chapter,” one that is “well rounded, vibrant, active and contributes to the community and the fraternity and sorority experience at Michigan,” mine is in fighting shape. In my pledge class alone, nine girls are in the Business school, and as a chapter, we have 20 girls in the nursing school. We have neuroscience majors, communication majors, girls in the school of dentistry, pre-med and pre-law students and everything in between. We have girls on the dance team, girls on the rowing team, girls who write for The Michigan Daily as well members of the Panhellenic Association. We aren’t alone, however. Sororities and fraternities across the board have pledge classes just as diverse and ambitious as mine. We are also active (and not just because I come downstairs every morning to see girls doing ab exercises after they come back from running together, ugh). Our chapter won Greek Week last year, a competition among chapters to show their spirit (ugh, again, I know). Though I only directly participated in the limbo competition (seriously), I, as well as nearly all of our members, were there to cheer on the dance team and singing group as they performed for the Greek community (something tells me that Mitch McGary and Shane Morris judging the competition had something to do with the high attendance rate).

In terms of ensuring “that each chapter is supported and has access to the advising and resources it needs to be successful and grow,” Michigan Greek Life is upholding its end of the deal. Throughout our recruitment process, we had the help of a national member of our sorority who specializes in recruitment and assisting chapters in finding the right procedure for them. Having her in our house made it a much more professional, organized and overall improved experience.

As evidence for how vocal of a sorority I belong to, my chapter promotes “ideals of responsibility and citizenship,” with members who “feel empowered to intervene and create change in the best interest of individuals and the chapter as a whole.” This was exemplified when, just last night, a member stood up in a chapter meeting when she didn’t feel comfortable with the language being using when referring to a certain group of people. And guess what? The people who used that language immediately apologized, and the words in question weren’t used again.

If you were wondering, I came in second place in the limbo competition. Looking to place first this year.

4. “Empower our community to be the ‘Leaders and Best’ through clearly defined standards and community expectations.”

In terms of “establishing our community as a safe and welcoming space for all students where actions demonstrate respect for all,” Greek Life has its work cut out for it. Take the “I’m Shmacked: University of Michigan — Welcome Week” video for example. In her response piece “We’re All Schmucked,” former Daily columnist Melanie Kruvelis asserts “everyone has lost faith in humanity. They are horrified, they are embarrassed and nobody can stop watching.” What and who were they watching? Mainly Michigan Greek Life. Some may argue that Greek life looks especially out of control when appearing in a 3:57 video that is designed to make it look exactly that, or that it was “just edited that way,” but anybody who has been in Ann Arbor on a football Saturday knows that it’s the reality. Perhaps this doesn’t paint the most pleasant “image of their community” and tailgating students probably aren’t pondering how “their actions and methods of governance impact Greek Life and the University of Michigan,” but undoubtedly, they do. This, and similar depictions of Greek Life don’t necessarily demonstrate a community that “functions at the highest possible level of integrity and accountability,” and can serve as a convincing argument against Greek Life’s “self-governance.”

Though Greek Life is not a consistent role model for those looking to “conduct themselves with integrity and in accordance with sound values,” no organization is. Take capitalism, for example.

I’ll spare you, but you get the idea.

Catherine Bergin is an LSA sophomore.