Theta Chi’s ignorant partying displays Schlissel’s false optimism

Sunday, June 28, 2020 - 3:33pm

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I’ll be honest — signing a lease next to one of the largest fraternities on campus was a massive mistake, especially as someone unaffiliated with social Greek life. Over the past year, I’ve learned to fall asleep to the thumping of the bass on Theta Chi’s speakers on random Tuesday nights and adjusted to routinely throwing their trash back into their backyard from mine, only to watch squirrels and other wildlife rummage through their abandoned beer, food, boxes and plastic containers. 

Admittedly, I should have considered who my neighbors would be before I moved into a house with the fraternity’s satellite houses in its backyard. I haven’t complained much throughout my time living here for that reason. However, observing their behavior amid a pandemic has been revolting. In fact, this column was inspired by the large party that gathered in their backyard on Thursday, June 25, mirroring what fraternity parties looked like on campus before COVID-19. While on a slightly smaller scale, their backyard was flocked with people dancing and, needless to say, not bothering to follow social distancing guidelines. 

Frankly, this isn’t at all surprising. There’s a constant plethora of controversy surrounding both University-affiliated and unaffiliated fraternities on campus. Many of our fraternities have countless accusations of alcohol abuse, sexual assault, racism and hazing. In 2018, six fraternities, including Theta Chi, voluntarily disaffiliated from the University of Michigan due to changes in Ann Arbor zoning requirements that would force them to actually face repercussions for their irresponsible and loathsome actions. Still, I had some hope that these fraternity brothers, who are receiving a world-renowned education from a university with one of the best public health programs in the world, would act somewhat responsibly and display at least a hint of their high-quality schooling during this pandemic. The party I involuntarily witnessed from my bedroom window proves not only my own naivety but also University President Mark Schlissel’s.

Theta Chi’s latest disappointing displays of entitlement and foolishness are likely a result of Schissel’s recent announcement to have an in-residence fall semester. Although it’s clear to any knowledgeable being that these plans are only provisional — reliant on a continued flattening of the curve — these brothers still believe that the best way to respond to the University’s recently announced plans for the fall semester is to throw parties. Schissel’s faith in students, especially those involved in social Greek life, to continue social distancing after returning to campus shows that his ignorance nearly matches that of the Theta Chi brothers. His false optimism, if left unchecked, will lead to even more parties like these throughout the upcoming semesters. 

Unfortunately, as stated above, Theta Chi has made their determination to avoid any consequences for their actions clear by disaffiliating with the University, making it all the more difficult to hold them accountable. For affiliated fraternities, the University and the Interfraternity Council can — and should — ban all social engagements and Greek life activity in general for the upcoming semesters. Clearly, if left to their own devices, many of these students will prioritize their desire to binge drink and party excessively over the health and safety of their peers as well as faculty, staff and residents of Ann Arbor. Their inability to care about anything outside of themselves will be on full display. 

However, for Theta Chi, other unaffiliated fraternities and those that will inevitably disaffiliate when told that they have to forego their precious parties, this selfishness will lack consequence. In order to change that, the city of Ann Arbor holds the responsibility of enacting and enforcing ordinances that will discourage large parties from occurring — not only for fraternities but also for co-ops and house parties thrown by the general student population. Currently, this would require police to increase patrolling the city for parties. Hopefully, the city can enlist a committee of sorts independent of the police to enforce this. Until the University defunds and divests from their police department, though, they’ll likely be on party patrol. 

Undoubtedly, if we are to have an in-residence fall semester, the University should place as many bans as possible on both affiliated and unaffiliated fraternities in order to discourage parties. Outside of that, and in addition to action being taken by the city of Ann Arbor, the campus culture should normalize condemning large parties in the name of public safety. We must discourage our friends and classmates from attending and call out our fraternity neighbors for throwing them (I’m looking at you, Theta Chi). It’s imperative that we force Greek life to face their hypocrisy of throwing these parties despite their desire to return to campus this fall. They must be reminded that they aren’t the only students on campus or the only residents of this city. 

I’m well aware that I sound like the last person you’d want to invite to a party. Believe me, I don’t want the invite. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of fraternity parties and nights out in Ann Arbor. Under normal circumstances, I’d be craving parties and tailgates for the upcoming school year as well. However, I’m also a public health student, and I’m actively considering the impact gatherings on that scale will have on other people, especially our immunocompromised peers. Furthermore, I want my senior year — all of it — to be in-residence, as does most of the student body. I’m more than willing to give up attending dirty, sweaty, COVID-infested parties if it means I get one last year on the Ann Arbor campus. Apparently, the Theta Chi brothers cannot say the same. They, along with Schlissel, will be the ones to blame when Ann Arbor sees a massive surge in cases and classes are moved online indefinitely. 

Elayna Swift can be reached at elaynads@umich.edu.