For the first time in University of Michigan Greek life’s 170-year history, chapter members from all four councils — Interfraternity, Panhellenic, National Pan-Hellenic and Multicultural — were required to meet with administrators last Thursday evening to discuss party culture and how it affects perceptions of our school. With problems such as sexual assault and alcohol abuse disproportionately affecting Greek life members, it’s obvious some sort of action is required. However, administrators should not be led to believe that holding a large meeting, during which they talked at members instead of with them, was a productive use of time. Instead, they should realize they failed to engage their target audience and made little or no progress in initiating needed reforms.
Each chapter was required to send at least 70 percent of its members to the meeting at Hill Auditorium or else face a semester of social probation, a letter to their national organization and a $1,000 fine. Perhaps due to this attendance requirement, the mass meeting was met with some resistance. Members of the crowd disrupted University President Mark Schlissel and other members of the administration with loud coughs and laughter when issues such as alcohol abuse, sexual assault and other problems pertaining to Greek life were discussed.
However, this behavior did not go unreprimanded. Alex Krupiak, the 2015 IFC executive board president, ended the meeting by commenting on the disrespectful behavior as “flat-out embarrassing” for the entirety of Greek life. While only a small minority of members displayed this massive immaturity, it demonstrates stomach-churning ignorance toward the serious issues facing Greek life that must be addressed.
That said, the initiative to bridge gaps between Greek life and the administration was admirable. However, the lack of awareness within the administration about the underlying roots from which alcohol abuse, property destruction and sexual assaults stem, coupled with the “not in my backyard” attitudes of some students involved in Greek life, resulted in an ineffective dialogue that sought to appeal to emotions instead of proposing real, substantive changes.
During the meeting, the University called on members of Greek life to internally create a more constructive campus culture and lead progress toward upholding school values. However, administrators stated they couldn’t find short-term solutions for the cultural problems permeating campus, and didn’t give specific policy suggestions that could provide a framework for the student-led changes to occur. While members of Greek life ultimately decide how they represent themselves, these organizations are also University-sanctioned and operate under the University’s jurisdiction. Administrators have the power and the responsibility to facilitate cultural shifts by establishing concrete guidelines and engaging in collaborative efforts with student organizations. The meeting identified negative aspects of Greek life, but ultimately failed to offer genuine policy solutions.
The structure and emphasis of the meeting were also problematic. E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, remarked in an interview with the Michigan Daily that the meeting was intended to emphasize the University’s concern for students’ health and wellness, not to scold them. However, Harper made clear at the meeting that others often perceive Greek life as racist, homophobic, sexist and unsafe. Further, the consensus after the meeting reflected disapproval of the event. Ultimately, the administration came off as punitive, putting many students on the defensive and risking creating a rift that could damage future efforts to effectively enact policy.
Given that the administration highlighted more problems than it provided solutions, and that no actual progress is likely to come of it, the meeting comes off as a publicity stunt that wasn’t meant to cause any tangible change.
Rather than condemn the entirety of Greek life, the University should seek to acknowledge the positive contributions individual chapters make to campus and the community at large. Reforms are needed, but generalizing the collective behavior of the students within these organizations will not bring forth any substantial solutions. The problematic actions of individuals, or even specific chapters, should not overshadow Greek life members who are instituting reforms and portraying the University in a positive light. To remedy these issues, the University needs to modify its approach in order to establish an open dialogue and a more cooperative relationship with these groups.