The University of Michigan recently announced that it would transition to winter rush for social Greek organizations, starting in the 2019-2020 academic year as a part of a plan to improve the first-year experience. The new plan requires students to have completed at least 12 resident credit-hours and to be in good behavioral and academic standing before they can participate in the rush process. The change will affect about 2,000 students annually according to an email sent by E. Royster Harper, vice president for Student Life on March 21st.
The change comes following a two-month self-imposed ban on social activities by the Interfraternity Council after reports of hazing, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as allegations of sexual misconduct. The Zeta Beta Tau fraternity’s national organization also revoked its chapter at the University for violating multiple policies and endangering its members. We believe this policy change is a step in the right direction toward creating a Greek life system that exists to improve the university experience of students, especially freshmen, instead of detracting from it.
The decision by the University will be most beneficial to the new freshmen class and allow its members more opportunities to become better acclimated to their campus community. Being a new freshman can be daunting, and the question of whether or not to join social Greek life in the first semester adds to the pressure. When freshmen arrive at college, their first friends are often those who live in the same residence halls as them. As the semester continues, students find themselves branching out and making new friends through their classes and student organizations. This allows freshmen to try various activities and find what they like best.
Fraternities and sororities often sell the experience to freshmen by promising an immediate new group of friends and a great social life. Greek life, however, is an aspect of campus life that requires a large time commitment and could cause new students to insulate themselves within their fraternity or sorority. With this change, students will have more time and energy to put towards the equally important academic transition from high school to college. This will also allow freshmen more time to find out how they want to spend their time on campus without first requiring them to commit to a time-consuming rush and pledge process.
Additionally, the new winter rush process helps new students become acclimated to the drinking culture on campus. As most students are aware, the social atmosphere in college is usually vastly different from high school. The expectations, the amount of alcohol and other drugs available and the number of people with whom students can engage in these activities drastically increases during Welcome Week. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in fraternities, who host the majority of Welcome Week events and provide alcohol for thousands of students every weekend.
There are obvious dangers associated with this newfound easy access to alcohol and other substances, as evidenced by more than 30 hospital transports during the weekend of the Michigan State game and seven during Halloween weekend. With winter rush, students will still go out and experience college life, but will be able to make better decisions about the drinking culture that comes with it, as they would have had time to acclimate in the fall.
There are, however, some concerns about the new policy. Suspending fall rush for fraternities may also simply lead to an informal rushing process that may exclude some freshmen who do not have the right connections. This “underground rush” would also be completely unregulated by the University, though one could possibly argue that currently the University has very little oversight regardless.
Lastly, this decision also could unfairly affect multicultural fraternities who provide a unique space for the members of their respective communities. When minority students arrive at the University’s predominantly white campus, multicultural Greek life can offer a support system that the transition to winter rush could threaten to delay.
Overall, however, the change to a winter rush process is a strong step by the University to improve the first-year experience and limit the insularity of Greek life on campus. Freshmen will have an opportunity to explore their interests and make better-informed decisions about their social life and future involvement in student organizations. And, in the face of recent controversies surrounding Greek life both on campus and nationally, lifting some of the pressure to join the Greek community freshmen often face could have long-lasting benefits.