University-affiliated fraternities conduct freshmen fall recruitment against U-M regulations

Monday, November 4, 2019 - 7:03pm

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Editor's Note: The Michigan Daily has used several anonymous sources to report this story. As stated in the article, we are honoring our sources' requests to be quoted anonymously due to fears of retaliation from their fraternity brothers or the greater fraternity and sorority life community for speaking out. In accordance with our ethics policy (which can be found in full in our bylaws), the reporter of this article and two editors have seen the names and fraternity affiliations of our sources, as well as the evidence they provided The Daily. 

Fraternities affiliated with the Interfraternity Council have engaged in recruitment of freshmen members this semester against University of Michigan policy, a Michigan Daily investigation has discovered.

The IFC is a governing body for most fraternities overseen by the University. The Daily has confirmed at least eight out of the 18 IFC-affiliated fraternities invited freshmen to participate in the recruitment process, extended bids to freshmen or currently have freshmen pledges. Though all sources quoted in the article told The Daily they believe every IFC-affiliated fraternity conducted fall recruitment of freshmen students, The Daily could not independently confirm this information. 

The Daily was also given documentation showing at least one IFC-affiliated fraternity used freshmen pledges as sober monitors for at least one party, despite the fact these freshmen students did not receive the required University-administered training to serve in this capacity. 

The IFC is one of four fraternity and sorority life councils at the University. The Daily has received no confirmation any organizations within the other three councils — the Panhellenic Association, the Multicultural Greek Council and the National Panhellenic Council — engaged in fall recruitment of freshmen students. The Ann Arbor Interfraternity Council, a group of fraternities that disaffiliated from the University last fall, does not fall under the University’s jurisdiction. Because they are not beholden to the deferred rush policy, these fraternities were free to openly recruit first-year students.  

The six students interviewed in this article have requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from the fraternity community. To protect the identities of these sources and their safety on campus, The Daily has decided not to publish the names of the fraternities linked to the evidence it has received nor the evidence itself.

A freshman pledging an IFC-affiliated fraternity, who will be referred to as Student 1 in this article, shared with The Daily an email that was sent to him about “pledge education.” Because freshmen rushees and pledges are not registered within and thus not recognized in the University’s fraternity and sorority life system, Student 1 said there would be no way for a freshman student who felt uncomfortable or unsafe to file a complaint or incident report. 

It would also be difficult to hold those responsible for harm within the fraternity accountable, Student 1 explained. 

“The University has no idea I’m pledging, they have no record of it,” Student 1 said. “I mean, officially they don’t have my name down. And if I die, now it is harder for them to prove that it’s because of a hazing incident.”

“With any new policy enacted, implementation takes time to perfect

In March 2018, University administration decided to transition to deferred recruitment for freshmen students beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. All students eligible to participate in fraternity or sorority recruitment must have completed at least 12 credits at the University and be in good academic and behavioral standing. 

The change came a semester after the IFC voluntarily suspended all social activities for two months in 2017 to avoid sanctions from the fraternities’ headquarters following multiple incidents of hazing, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual assault. 

Deferred recruitment was part of the University’s five-year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan for first-year students. The goal of the deferral was to enhance the first-year experience for students to “create opportunities for students to gain skills for long-term academic success, develop sustainable and healthy relationships and engage with a diverse living and learning community,” as detailed in the Year Two Progress Report.

The IFC and the Panhellenic Association denounced the move when it was first announced, releasing a statement arguing that deferred recruitment violates “the right of students to freely associated [sic] and freely express themselves without coercion or undue influence from the University.” 

In response to The Daily’s request for comment, IFC President Nicholas Wasik, an LSA senior, reiterated the University’s existing policies on misconduct complaints and sober monitor requirements. He wrote in an email that the IFC continues to work towards ensuring a safe experience for all students, which includes a zero-tolerance policy towards hazing.   

“With any new policy enacted, implementation takes time to perfect and the Interfraternity Council in conjunction with our university partners are working to carry out all our policies to the best of our ability,” Wasik wrote. “In addition, the Interfraternity Council has encouraged chapters to hold events to engage with first semester students to allow those students to explore the community prior to participating in winter recruitment, when they are eligible. All of the policies mentioned above also apply to these engagement events.”

“To have a cone of silence around an issue is really difficult”

The Daily obtained an email sent by School of Music, Theatre and Dance senior Benjamin Jozwiak, IFC vice president of recruitment, to all attendees of the IFC Open Forum on Sept. 16. The forum is an event where every IFC-affiliated fraternity has a table for interested students to learn more about their organization. In the email, Jozwiak encouraged students “regardless of eligibility” to attend the open houses. However, he instructed only eligible students to formally register for recruitment through the Recruitment and Intake Gateway.

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Jozwiak did not respond to a request for comment. The Daily also reached out to all IFC-affiliated fraternities on campus but did not receive any responses by the time of publication.  

In an interview with The Daily, Nicole Banks, assistant dean of students and interim director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said the University sent materials in the mail and direct emails to all first-year students clearly outlining the new eligibility requirements. In addition, Banks said the FSL Office held public presentations with leaders of chapters and councils, alumni and advisers to discuss the new regulations.

Banks said enforcement of the policy centered around making sure it was well-known, especially among incoming students and their families. 

“And if someone really wants to suppress something that’s happening and especially if it’s happening off-campus, they'll find a way, because we’re not spies,” Banks said. “We’re not out in spaces monitoring what students are doing at their off-campus homes or facilities.” 

Banks explained students who are not eligible for recruitment are allowed to attend events open to the public in order to learn more about the various fraternities and sororities at the University. However, only eligible students are allowed to attend closed recruitment events, such as invite-only events, which are meant for potential new members and current members of the fraternity, she said.

“If a chapter is holding a closed event that is for their members and their potential new members, then people ought to meet the institutional eligibility criteria and their headquarter’s eligibility criteria,” Banks said. “I hope students operated in good faith, that if an event were open, there wasn’t anyone who was turned away for any reason.”

But all students interviewed for this article took part in at least some of the rush process, and The Daily has obtained text messages of IFC-affiliated fraternity brothers asking freshmen to come to various invite-only rush events. One student said he learned about rush through a post on the Class of 2023 Facebook group by the IFC-affiliated fraternity he is currently pledging, while others attended the IFC Open Forum. 

Banks said the FSL Office has heard rumors from students about violations of this policy. However, Banks said these rumors have been anonymous and have not named the organizations that participated, making it difficult for the University to take action.

“To have a cone of silence around an issue is really difficult,” Banks said. “The thought that these chapters, or some of these chapters, are violating a policy that could lead to harm, and not to have anything to narrow the scope of where to look, who to talk to, when to be concerned, what activities look like, what the extent of potential harm could be is really difficult.”

The Daily contacted the headquarters of every IFC-affiliated fraternity on campus. Alpha Delta Phi, Alpha Tau Omega, Beta Theta Pi, Delta Upsilon, Delta Tau Delta, Phi Kappa Psi, Psi Upsilon, Sigma Chi and Sigma Nu all responded, the majority writing they have no role in enforcing University policies that they believe infringe on students’ constitutional rights to free association.

The headquarters for Chi Phi, Delta Sigma Phi, Lambda Chi Alpha, Phi Gamma Delta, Phi Kappa Tau, Pi Kappa Alpha, Theta Delta Chi, Theta Xi and Triangle did not reply by time of publication. 

The Daily contacted multiple sources on-campus requesting an interview without anonymity to discuss their knowledge of IFC-affiliated fraternities recruiting freshmen students. All individuals either did not respond or declined to comment, citing fear of retaliation or social repercussions from the fraternity and sorority community.

Banks urged those who have knowledge of policy violations to report these situations to the FSL Office. She noted students can choose to report anonymously if they’d prefer. 

“If people are circumventing recruitment processes, tips, complaints, reports to our office help us to have constructive conversations and interventions where we need to,” Banks said. “If there’s compelling evidence an organization violated policies, a panel will review that and determine first whether or not there’s responsibility for violating policy, but also what’s the appropriate sanction.”

“Because of dirty rush, I’m not supposed to be rushing”

Student 2 is a freshman who received a bid from an IFC-affiliated fraternity but decided not to continue with the pledging process. Student 2 believes freshmen made up the majority of students participating in recruitment events and every IFC-affiliated fraternity had fall recruitment of freshmen. The Daily could not independently confirm these statements.

“Literally every single affiliated frat did fall rush,” Student 2 said. “For the freshmen, I think it might be they count them as winter rushes, so they get registered when those do.” 

According to Banks, students planning to pursue membership in an IFC-affiliated fraternity are required to complete the Recruitment and Intake Gateway and register within the Campus Director database. Chapters are also supposed to provide the names of all students who received a bid.

Despite the University’s regulations, Student 3, a current freshman pledge in another IFC-affiliated fraternity, said he felt many people on campus knew IFC-affiliated fraternities were accepting freshmen as new members. Student 3 shared a screenshot of the pledge group chat he belongs to with The Daily.

“I don’t think there was a huge impact, like I don’t feel like ‘Oh, don’t tell anyone’ or that I’m not allowed to talk about this or anything,” Student 3 said.

Additionally, Student 1 said he has not taken part in any of the training programs required by the University or his fraternity’s headquarters. Though necessary training varies between individual fraternities, the University and the IFC require all potential new fraternity members to complete workshops and courses on bystander behavior, hazing awareness and the University’s policies on sexual and gender-based misconduct. 

“Because of dirty rush, I’m not supposed to be rushing, I have received zero training,” Student 1 said. “Sophomores are enrolled in that because they are not in this hidden process. They can do it because they are known by the University, but if I do it I screw over myself and the fraternity, so I can’t.”

“If you are a pledge, you should be doing the training that’s necessary”

One training program all new members of fraternities are required to complete is a 1.5-hour University module on how to be a sober monitor. A sober monitor is a fraternity member who does not drink and works to keep parties and guests safe in situations involving alcohol and/or drugs. 

Student 3 said he has acted as a sober monitor at one party, serving alcohol at the bar. 

Student 3 confirmed he wore the neon orange shirt required by IFC policy to identify the party’s designated sober monitors. In lieu of official sober monitor training, Student 3 explained he received approximately five to 10 minutes of verbal instruction from a brother and a written list describing all the roles. The Daily has obtained a copy of these written instructions. 

“I was sober monitoring, obviously I didn’t have the training for that, I was just kind of given an overview by one of the brothers that had been trained,” Student 3 said. “Within the people that were sobering, I would say it was roughly about 25 percent pledges and 75 percent of brothers who’d done the training. The head sober kind of like went through all those descriptions and asked if we understood what our job is, if we had any questions about it.”

Though Student 3 said he felt confident in his ability to carry out his roles, he said this is because he didn’t encounter a high-stress situation during his shift. 

“If you are a pledge, you should be doing the training that’s necessary,” Student 3 said. 

According to Banks, having freshmen students serve as sober monitors without training puts everyone who attends the event at risk. In addition, she said the situation is unfair to Ann Arbor residents who live near chapter houses and expect proper risk management. 

“I worry — I’m not saying this is the case, because I feel like we’re talking hypothetically — I worry about hazing,” Banks said. “What makes this person take on the responsibility of managing risk management at, I don't know, a chapter facility of 6,000 square feet and hundreds of guests at a tailgate here in Michigan?... I think that the first-year student may not recognize the lack of power in that situation to actually confront problematic behavior and risk.”

“They didn’t bring up the policy”

Student 4, a freshman who decided not to continue with the recruitment process after rush, said members of the fraternities he interacted with encouraged freshmen students like himself to participate in recruitment.

“Brothers in the frats in Welcome Week told everyone, ‘You should rush,’ that freshmen could rush,” Student 4 said. “They didn’t bring up the policy.”

Student 5, a sophomore, took part in IFC-affiliated recruitment this year and his freshman year, before the deferred recruitment policy went into effect. He decided not to join an organization both years. Student 5 said the process this year seemed unaffected by the new University regulation.

“Since it wasn’t strictly enforced at all that freshmen weren’t allowed to rush, it was basically just like a sanctioned rush with freshmen and sophomores,” Student 5 said. “I didn’t notice any differences between when I rushed freshman year and sophomore year.”

According to Student 1, the nature of these recruitment events varied each time.

“After all the open houses, they’ll text you like a day later to come to the house at 10 tomorrow,” Student 1 said. “And you go back and it completely depends. Sometimes it was a pretty chill event, where you were sober and just had a good time. There were some where the only point of that was to get drunk.”

All students interviewed said that to their knowledge, none of the Panhellenic sororities recruited freshmen this semester, and The Daily has not received any confirmation of Panhellenic sororities engaging in unsanctioned rush. However, one freshman student said one of the fraternity rush events he attended was hosted with a Panhellenic sorority. 

When asked for a statement, LSA senior Taylor Fegan, Panhellenic Association president, wrote to The Daily that sororities did not recruit freshmen students this semester. She noted the association works with various campus and community resources to ensure the safety and wellness of their members and all University students. 

“The Panhellenic Association facilitated a partially structured fall recruitment this year to transition our community,” Fegan wrote. “Through this process, we welcomed more than 75 new members that met all institutional eligibility requirements and have continued to follow these regulations in all other council and chapter operations. The Panhellenic Association, specifically with regards to recruitment, operates entirely independently of other councils.”

When asked why he thinks sororities might decide not to conduct fall recruitment of freshmen, Student 1 explained he believes some male-identifying students rely more heavily on the fraternity and sorority system. 

“Guys need Greek life, but I feel like for girls it’s more of an accessory,” Student 1 said. “Girls I feel like in general have stronger support systems, stronger friendships by default, and they can get into parties. Guys don’t have strong friends, guys don’t get into parties. It matters a lot less for girls.”

Similarly to Student 1, Student 2 feels fraternities determine much of his social scene.

“Now, as a non-fraternity affiliated guy, my weekends are pretty desperate,” Student 2 said. 

“It is an easy way to make connections”

To Student 3, being a part of a fraternity has been more beneficial than detrimental to his college transition. He said it’s helped him build both a social and professional network. 

“Being on campus, just overall, I see so many familiar faces around and whenever I want to be in a social setting or be around the brothers, I know I can just go to the house,” Student 3 said. “But also the connections to alumni of the fraternity, and overall there is a professional side of it, you are able to benefit from that wider network. Also, academically, it’s nice to have older brothers who are doing the same major as me, if I have questions.”

Student 3 said he hasn’t personally felt overwhelmed by his fraternity. However, he said he agrees with the University’s decision to defer rush, as he believes it can be a large time commitment and a high-pressure environment to join other fraternities. 

“I haven’t felt like I couldn’t balance it, but I know other fraternities that probably have more hazing… So I think leaving it up to the student’s discretion is probably not the best thing to do, if you just look at the entire student population as a whole,” Student 3 said.

Though Student 3 mentioned hazing, The Daily has not confirmed that any hazing occurred during recruitment for any IFC-affiliated fraternity on campus this semester. 

Student 2 said he ultimately decided not to accept his bid because he thought pledging would make it more difficult to build friendships outside of the fraternity and keep up with academics as a freshman. Because of this, Student 2 said he understands the University’s regulations despite disagreeing with them. 

“I think (freshmen) should (join a fraternity) if they want to, but I do understand the merits of winter rush,” Student 2 said. “I think it’s definitely a good idea to give time to settle into University life. Because if you’ve been here three weeks and you’re already thrown into this rat race, it’s very tolling. Just a lot on your mind, and a lot of time spent, and it could be to no avail.”

In contrast, Student 1 explained he has found his fraternity to be strong system of support in his college transition. 

“It is an easy way to make connections,” Student 1 said. “There are a lot of things when you first come in that end up being harder than you think they’re going to be, and I think making friends is one of those… Greek life is in many ways a mental health tool that many people don’t realize is a mental health tool.”

Similar to Student 1, Student 5 said he believes freshmen should be allowed to participate in fraternity and sorority life during their first semester on campus.

“As a freshman in college, you are old enough to choose for yourself what you want to do,” Student 5 said. 

Student 6 is a freshman who attended several rush events before deciding not to continue with the process to join other organizations instead. Though Student 6 said he found the recruitment process to be time-consuming, he thinks it should be up to the student to decide if they want to join a fraternity.

“It’s not necessarily unreasonable for students to do, if you manage your course load well,” Student 6 said. “Obviously it’s a lot of time but I think it’s still very manageable rushing a fraternity at the same time. I know some people drop their fraternities, if they decide upon other things they wanted to pursue… So I mean that’s always a thing people can do.” 

“A culture of dirty rushing”

Student 1 said he believes the University’s regulations and the resulting unsanctioned rush have a negative impact overall. 

“I think it’s probably a bad thing, just because everything is under the radar,” Student 1 said. “The University tried to clamp down on that, they went too far, and now they have overall less control because of it.”

Student 3 also said he thinks there are going to be people who break the rules regardless. As a result, the University’s regulations ultimately result in “a culture of dirty rushing,” where rush is less regulated and pledges do not get the training they need, Student 3 explained.

However, Student 2 said he thinks less regulation does not necessarily mean a harsher pledging process. 

“I guess they could if they wanted to do more weird shit, because it’s not regulated,” Student 2 said. “But there’s an incentive for frats not to destroy their pledges. The topic is so sensitive today anyway, if anything were to come out the entire system would be shut down. There’s not much faith in Greek life from the public’s perspective anymore.”