In the carpeted oasis of floral-print armchairs, Shutterfly stock images of fruits and rickety wooden tables that inevitably cause your drink to spill at Espresso Royale (State Street location), a brick wall divides the center of the room. The brick is chipped, faded, smattered with uneven plaster. In the middle of the wall, the brick is absent entirely. A sturdy iron beam running across the top of the tattered bricks keeps the wall from crumbling on mild-mannered students and Piada patrons from across the street.
The hopes LSA junior Taylor Fegan, the president of the Panhellenic Association, has for sororities at the University of Michigan mirror Espresso’s interior design unequivocally. No matter what Panhel, and Greek life as a whole, may look like from the outside, the core values remain and keep the wall from falling.
“We in Panhellenic pride ourselves on some key core values that encompass all 18 chapters on this campus and that’s sisterhood, philanthropy and service and those are the things … that we do that we act in and it’s really important to me to continue making those steps that previous presidents, previous boards before me have done,” Fegan said.
Fegan was elected president of the Panhellenic Association, the governing body for partcipating sororities on campus last December. Before that, she represented her Delta Gamma chapter at Panhel meetings and was a dedicated member of the Sexual Violence Education and Empowerment branch of the Peer Educators Program.
Though she hasn’t been able to be as involved in her former committee work, she said it’s equally rewarding to watch the current members make the Sexual Violence Education and Empowerment branch even stronger and more helpful for survivors and allies.
“It’s been really empowering to watch this organization in Panhel really take off over the past couple years and being part of it (means) I’ve been privy to more of the information or knowledge about where the direction of PPE is going, and I think, for me in my role this semester — and even continuing into next semester — is making that more accessible to women in the community and taking (PPE) and reaching out to IFC fraternities and other organizations on campus.”
In addition to the Sexual Violence Education and Empowerment branch, the Panhel Peer Education Program also has a Mental Health branch. While Fegan has noticed the Sexual Violence branch reaching new heights, she plans on dedicating more time and focus to the Mental Health branch to help it be as equally as effective for the Greek life community.
In just a 50-minute conversation, Fegan emphasized the need for perspective in any leadership decision as well as in everyday life. Outside of her role as Panhellenic president, Fegan is pre-med with a major in Spanish and minors in history and biology. She also volunteers at the University Health System Hospital Elder Life Program every week, caring for elderly patients and giving them someone to talk to and connect with if the patient’s family can’t be around all the time. On top of that, she works in a research lab on campus as a peer adviser and student research assistant.
When all of these commitments create problems and stresses, Fegan said attempting to put yourself in another person’s shoes to understand their problems can help you cope with your own, whether it’s watching a Real Housewife complain about a faulty handbag, considering a HELP patient’s illnesses or hearing complaints about Greek life on campus.
“You can’t teach perspective,” Fegan said. “It is one of the very few things that, no matter how hard you try with somebody, you cannot teach them perspective and I have come to realize that over the years … you never learn it until you go through it yourself and so I try really hard to put myself in those positions where I’ll gain more perspective about things ‘cause I think it makes life easier.”
When mentioning the University of Michigan and Greek life, the headlines are hard to ignore. In the past four years, incidents such as vandalism at a northern Michigan ski resort, a self-imposed social ban following reports of hazing, sexual misconduct and hospitalizations, and deferred rush to winter semester have rocked the Greek community and non-Greek University students alike. Since these stories, Fegan said she has seen increased awareness around issues such as sexual assault through her work in the Peer Educators Program, but said the bad often overshadows the good progress and philanthropy Greek life engages in.
“It’s really important to note that that external perspective of the fraternity and sorority community is very unfortunately 99 percent of the time the negative things that have happened,” Fegan said. “Every good, little win doesn’t make headlines but when something big does happen, it’s front page. And I think that’s challenging for us that work in this community because we do have incredible things that happen every day, that we are making progress and changes but when it gets to that point where something implodes or something goes wrong, that’s the first thing that people reach to or that they notice.”
Moving forward with the lessons she’s learned from the past years, Fegan is optimistic about next semester’s challenges and ready to continue laying the foundation for future leaders and sorority members. Coming to campus as a freshman with no one from her high school and living in a single dorm in a hall full of sophomores, Fegan wanted to find a support system. After rushing, she found her space and wants to make sure others can, too.
“The reason why I wanted to do this job and the reason why I care so much about Panhel as a whole is for the sustainability of the community in that when I came to this campus and I needed a space, this was my space and this was my home and where I found that community,” Fegan said. “My chapter and the Panhellenic community really provided that for me and it is so important to me that this space stays for the girl next year who comes to campus and needs that — five years from now, 10 years from now. It’s important to me to give back to the community that gave to me.”