This is an excerpt from the Daily’s 2014 Orientation Issue. To read the rest of the issue, click here.

Whether you’re a three-generation legacy or are wandering frat row and wondering what the weird letters on the big houses mean, there are lots of questions surrounding Greek Life, especially leading up to your decision to rush or not. We sat down with Greek Life Director Mary Beth Seilman to answer those questions and dispel stereotypes or misconceptions that many have regarding the Greek community, from recruitment to initiation.

If you envision yourself as the real-life Elle Woods or think Bluto from Animal House had it made, the University has a rich history of Greek Life on campus, dating back to 1845 when two national fraternities developed chapters in Ann Arbor. The first sorority was established here in 1909.

What are students options when it comes to Greek Life?

Greek Life has grown tremendously, as of the end of the year we had 5,400 members from across the first the four councils. That’s the first thing that some people probably don’t know is that there are four councils in Greek Life. There are 16 Panhellenic sororities and we’ll be adding a seventeenth in the fall, which creates a lot of opportunities. There are 31 fraternities in the Interfraternity Council, and there are seven fraternities and sororities in the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which are the historically African American. We also have 11 fraternities in the Multicultural Greek Council, so we have a lot of options for students, which I think is really good.

What is your advice for students unsure about joining Greek Life?

The one thing we really encourage students to do is to check it out and see if you like it. If you don’t, you don’t have to complete the process, so it’s a good way to meet some people and then make a decision if the timing is right for you as an individual.

When is recruitment and what can people expect?

All of the Panhellenic sororities and IFC fraternities will be doing recruitment in the fall. The National Panhellenic organizations don’t begin their intake process in the fall for first year students. The Panhellenic sororities definitely have the most structured recruitment process, you have to register, it’s all computerized, but the women like it that way. The IFC has less structure to it, we prefer them to register and we need them to register before they accept a bid, but the individuals don’t have to visit all of the chapters, like the sororities do.

Are some organizations for students with a specific ethnicity or background?

All of these organizations are open to all students. The NPHC organizations were founded as historically African American organizations, but they are open, Multicultural organizations are likewise, open to students of all ethnicities and races, as are Panhellenic and IFC organizations. Just because there are four councils doesn’t mean we’re trying to presume where a student would be interested. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re interested in and you can check out more than one council, it’s not like you join and then you’re stuck with it.

What about people who are unsure about joining Greek Life?

From my standpoint, obviously I’ve worked in Greek Life a long time so I believe in it, it’s obviously not for everyone, but I hope that students that come here find something outside the classroom … I think that’s important and there’s a lot that the University offers. I really believe in what we’re doing in Greek Life and students who are coming here have a lot of preconceived ideas that make it into the media, which are generally the negative things and not the positive things. I hope that students who are unsure will make up their own minds, it’s important that they decide for themselves if this is something that they want to do or not. They don’t have to do it first semester freshman year if they’re not ready, you can go through later on. Some organizations have winter recruitment, or you can do it as a sophomore or a junior.

What are some things that people can expect to get out of joining Greek Life?

From first semester students especially, and especially on a campus that’s this large, we hear that (Greek Life) is a place to maybe feel a little more comfortable, and whether it’s a fraternity or a sorority or something else, everyone looks to find their niche. It can be so many different things, but you can certainly find that in a fraternity or sorority. From our standpoint, it’s a chance to be mentored and have older members who are there for you, to help you find your way around the University and give you the benefit of their experience as they look out for you. As a community, we really work a lot, especially with our newest members, to give them education on things that they may not get in the classroom, like leadership opportunities and alcohol and sexual misconduct education. I think the sooner you get those things the better, but again, not everyone is ready first semester. It really depends on your time management skills and if you’re ready to do it or not. There’s a huge opportunity for service within the Greek community, as well as lots of social opportunities, that’s a given. For many organizations there’s an opportunity for housing, as well as leadership opportunities in your chapter and the larger Greek Community.

Why do most students choose to go Greek if they do?

If you ask them, most students will say the reason they joined their fraternity or sorority was for friendship, that was mainly what they were looking for, people that they felt really comfortable with, especially in a campus this large.

Do some students find that their grades suffer while they’re rushing a fraternity or sorority?

Academically, Greeks have higher GPAs than non-Greeks. I think the fact that it’s higher is significant. If you’re concerned about the time commitment, I definitely encourage students to ask questions so you know what’s expected of you and you can better manage your time and commitments. Also, asking what your chapter’s GPA is will give you an idea of the commitment and people in the organization, so that’s always a good thing to do. Academics are still the number one priority for Greek community students.

What does the University do to regulate Greek activities?

As an office, we want these communities to be all that they can be, and we have a relatively new strategic plan, and we completed the first year of the Achievement Expectations Program, which is what the chapters are expected to do in the course of the year. We had pretty good participation and we’re going to push again next year. It basically says that you’re going to do administrative things, you’re going to do service projects, you’re going to do philanthropy and fundraising, and certain types of programming and risk management, and expose yourself to multicultural events. We really work to build community among the four councils and I think we’ve come a long way with that. We also really encourage students to get involved on campus outside of their Greek organization, and they do, which is really important to notice.

Can you address the stigma of hazing that often surrounds Greek Life on campus and nationally?

I think there’s a fear of hazing that deters some people from joining Greek Life. I’m not going to say that we don’t recognize that it still exists, we try to have a handle on it. The cool thing about fraternities and sororities is that they are self-governing organizations, so they have policies that they create and they enforce, and the adjudicate if there are violations, which is a really great experience. We have had hazing come up from time to time, and when it happens it gets investigated by a student taskforce and gets sent for judicial action. I wish we could say it’s completely gone, but obviously it tends to be something that’s very underground. That’s one thing I encourage students to be savvy about when they’re going through the process, ask, ‘What is your new member program like?’ ‘How much time is it going to take?’ and ‘Do you have any hazing?’ Ask them outright, and if they beat around the bush, chances are there’s something that they’re not telling you. There’s no question that hazing is certainly not okay, and there are national policies against it, as well as from the University and the Greek system. We don’t want people joining organizations and having to experience that.

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