Leilani Baylis-Washington/Daily

Eli Rallo could be perceived as a relatively “well-known” social media influencer among college students. With her focus on navigating relationships and the transition into adulthood, her content matches the distinct needs of the Gen Z demographic. For students at the University of Michigan, however, that relevance is amplified. 

Having graduated from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance just two years ago, Rallo’s tie to the Michigan experience remains strong regardless of her newfound global audience. With her former involvement in The Michigan Daily, establishment of her own student organization, Blank Space Workshop and numerous returns to campus since her graduation, her imprint on the University has far surpassed her time as a student. 

Part of what makes Rallo so appealing to her fans, myself included, is her unabridged honesty about the dark and messy parts of life, especially within college, that often go undiscussed. 

“College is not the best four years of your life. I hate that bullsh*t. Why the f*ck would we tell 17 year olds ‘These four years are the best of your life?’” she stated in an episode of her podcast “Miss Congeniality with Eli Rallo.” “It puts unrealistic pressure on people and makes people freak out when they get there and they don’t like it.”

At the University, where generations of die-hard Wolverines gather every football game to rave about their coveted college experiences, Rallo’s sentiment remains particularly true. Rather than dilute her time at the University into a four-year fever dream, she is candid about the difficulties she faced in both her social and academic lives. In a time where the majority of current college students have lost at least a year of their “normal” college experience, the normalization of common college struggles is more necessary than ever. 

“Based on what I was posting on Instagram my freshman year of college,” she said in her TED Talk, “you never would’ve known that I was struggling with binge eating, body dysmorphia, intense anxiety, general unhappiness and a breast reduction scheduled for May.”

Perhaps her most notorious college-oriented discussion topic, Rallo actively speaks out against the harmful practices of Sigma Kappa, the sorority she joined her freshman year. She periodically posts emails she received about ridiculously strict dress codes and the details of the problematic scale used to rank potential new members. This exposure not only highlights campus-wide issues pertaining to historically white Fraternity and Sorority Life, but also comforts viewers who may feel similarly uncomfortable around these organizations. 

Rallo’s critiques against her former sorority are complicated, given that she did participate in its activities for two years. As someone who is currently in a sorority and enjoys it but also grapples with its inherent exclusivity, I understand and relate to her contradictory approach. I am grateful my experience looks very different from hers (and much happier than hers), but I do question the implications of my enjoyment upon reading her thoughts on sorority life at the University and as a whole. 

One of her most notorious TikToks discussing sorority life, which even made it into The Daily Mail tabloid, details the painstaking rankings used by Sigma Kappa to recruit members during the time of her membership. The document Rallo posted explains how the sorority chose who to keep for the next round based on five-minute conversations. 

“‘Not sure how she got through, get her out now,’” Rallo reads from one of the rankings in the TikTok, with views in the millions. “Great way to talk about another woman,” she sarcastically adds. 

The transparency with which she shares this document feels relatively unparalleled – the exclusivity of sororities in general usually prevents information of this nature from finding its way to the public. There are endless parodies and satires based on sorority life, but Rallo is talking about a real chapter on the same campus I currently reside in. And it’s powerful. 

In giving advice to hundreds of people each day via Instagram story questionnaire, Rallo often rehashes her sorority experience and uses it to boost up struggling viewers. 

“Go where you’re wanted,” she advised one fan. “Why the hell would you want to be a part of a group that doesn’t want to give you a chance because you’re 19th on their list instead of 18th?”

Though her Michigan experience was far from perfect, especially when it comes to FSL, Rallo refuses to let that stop her from providing the next generation with the power she wishes she had. 

When it comes to romantic and sexual relationships, Rallo is candid about her difficult college relationships, from traumatic emotional abuse to a simpler lack of chemistry. These disastrous (yet unfortunately relatable) stories serve as her jumping off points for helping students find their self-worth within a demeaning hookup culture. 

“There’s a lot of pressure in college to participate (in hookup culture),” she said. “I remember freshman year at our first sorority meeting a lot of girls were talking about it and I started freaking out. Here are my tips: Don’t compare yourself to others. Doing nothing and ending your night with pizza is just as cool as having sex.”

In her distinctly light, comedic tone, Rallo touches on concerns we have all had at one point or another about college relationships. And knowing that the pizza she’s talking about likely came from one of the many places on South University Avenue only makes her advice more adhesive. 

Since graduating in May of 2020, Rallo has made numerous visits to campus for both personal and professional reasons. From helping her brother get ready for a sorority formal to serving as a judge for Michigan’s Got Talent, her presence on campus has only heightened in the wake of her newfound online success. She has also made substantial efforts to see her followers while in Ann Arbor, making sure they know their importance in the scheme of her fanbase. 

As someone who has followed Rallo for a long time and unabashedly supports her success, it’s comforting to know she has gone through everything I have and, more importantly, that she is always willing to talk about it. Though she resonates with her hundreds of thousands of followers in diverse ways, I believe my connection to her messages strongly intertwines with our shared experiences at the University.

And I am not alone in that sentiment; her videos detailing her most-visited places on campus and mocking the fraternity she once frequented garnered over 10,000 likes and hundreds of comments coming from U-M students and fans. 

Business sophomore Grace Scheaffer said she felt the same connection to Rallo through the University, noting the power of her platform to particularly influence U-M students who view her content. 

“I feel the relatability when I hear her college experiences, it makes me think, ‘Oh, I have that same experience in that same place,’” Sheaffer said. “And also just like her going to different bars or to Afternoon Delight for her hangover breakfast. That is just so iconic because we all do the same thing.”

Eli Rallo has brought authenticity and honesty back to the Wolverine experience, and she’s helped me make a little more sense of my own.

Statement Correspondent Emily Blumberg can be reached at emilybl@umich.edu.