How Far Have We Come? How Far Do We Have To To?

November 11, 2017

Greek Life: Traditions in Need of a Change

Kirsty McInnes

Whether you’re in Greek Life, have friends in Greek Life, or have no part in Greek Life, everyone knows about its presence on campus. Less than 10 years after the University moved to Ann Arbor from Detroit, in 1845, the first two fraternities on campus were established; Beta Theta Pi and Chi Psi. 34 years after that, the first female sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta started a chapter at Michigan. Finally, in 1909 the first culturally based fraternity/sorority, Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest Black Greek-Letter organization in the country, formed the fifth charter at the University. Greek Life has deep historical roots at Michigan, and thousands have reaped the benefits of joining these tight-knit communities.

There are currently 65 chapters, fraternities and sororities combined on Michigan’s campus, made up of almost 6,000 undergraduates. As a junior in Pi Beta Phi, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some great experiences. Whether it be playing laser tag, crashing bumper cars, or playing dodgeball in a trampoline park, I’ve had a lot of fun with the girls I’ve met in my sorority. Greek life has also connected me to an awesome community, where I’ve met different types of people from all over the world. Yet, as many know, Greek life is not without its issues. These faults range from bad publicity from a ski trip, accusations of hazing and bullying, exclusivity and more. But as a member of this community I have experienced the ins and outs of what Greek Life is really all about, and I can appreciate where we’ve come from. The history, culture, and traditions are worth enriching and preserving, but as Michigan commemorates a symbolic turning point, its 200th birthday, I hope to see changes moving forward within the Greek Life community.

The most recent national headlines involving Greek Life have thankfully not been centered around the University of Michigan but names like Tim Piazza, a freshman hazing victim from Penn State, are fresh in many people’s minds. Hazing may be tradition for fraternities, but where do we draw the line between playful rights of passage and activities that are borderline murderous? As Michigan Greek Life moves forward over the next, hopefully another 172 years, I hope to see some changes within the hazing culture of fraternities. The safety of college students shouldn’t ever be at risk while trying to join an organization.

Concerns around hazing aren’t the only changes that need to be implemented within Greek Life, however. Many have complained about the exclusivity, sororities in particular. A solution to this has already started to materialize on campus and I hope that it continues to grow. Zeta Omega Eta is a recently colonized feminist sorority on campus that is “devoted to diversity, inclusiveness, and the advancement of feminist ideals”. In contrast to traditional sororities, Zeta is open to anyone. It is also moving away from sexist social events with themes such as “CEO’s and Office Hoes”. As a woman in Greek Life, and a woman in general, I could not be more supportive of this organization. I think that many women in Greek Life struggle with the enjoyment of being surrounded by friends, philanthropy, and fun events, while simultaneously existing in a community that can often undermine the idea of female empowerment. I hope that as Greek Life moves forward at Michigan, we can learn some things from Zeta Omega Eta. Organizations themselves are not inherently sexist or exclusionary - it is often specific individuals within Greek Life who carry these harmful attitudes. It wasn’t hard for Zeta Omega Eta to gather a large group of girls who were passionate about women’s rights as well as sisterhood. What will it take for men and women within traditional Greek Life to also decide that this change is worth it? Change is never easy, but no external force will change the way sororities and fraternities at Michigan have acted over the last 172 years. It’s the responsibility of the members in the community to decide this is the change they want, because it is the change that is necessary. It may be that Fraternities are beginning to notice this, as the recent suspension of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) came from within.

I am happy to be apart of the sorority, and feel that the Greek Life community at Michigan is one that has a future, hopefully a long one. Yet, as times, norms, and traditions change, Greek Life has to change with them.

Kirsty McInnes is current junior at the University of Michigan studying communications and minoring in writing. She is the Chapter Photographer for Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women.

The Oldest (and Most Harmonized) Organization on Campus

Arthur Mengozzi

For 200 years, the University of Michigan has been educating generations of the leaders and best in a wide variety of disciplines, and music is no exception. Ever since its inaugural year in 1880, the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance (SMTD) continues to develop, perfect, and showcase the talents of the world’s next great musicians, actors, and dancers. Due to its extensive history and success, SMTD has created a culture of music around campus that is unparalleled by any other non-conservatory institution in the country. Of the over 1,500 student-run organizations on campus, nearly 200 of them are considered “creative & performing arts” groups, some of which have been in existence for decades. But it does not stop there. SMTD has not only had a major impact on the creative lives of students around campus, but also on the musical culture of the city of Ann Arbor. Considering its already colossal emphasis on multiculturalism and the performing arts, Ann Arbor is considered by many to be one of the pinnacle cities for performing arts in the United States. For example, the University Musical Society, one of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country, has facilitated the appearances and performances of the world’s most esteemed performing arts masters. Their work, and the work of many other performing arts organizations in the city, would not be possible without the impact and support that SMTD has given the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor from the very beginning.

There is one organization at the University of Michigan that has stood the test of time. The University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club is the second-oldest male chorus in the nation and the oldest organization on the University of Michigan campus. With nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate students spanning the University’s entire breadth of majors, from Biochemistry to computer science to Mechanical Engineering to English, the Men’s Glee Club has been “singing in the key of Michigan” since its founding in 1859. Its members, only 20% of which are music majors, are united in their passion for singing and by the Club’s three pillars: Tradition, Camaraderie, and Musical Excellence. The three pillars have been at the heart of the Glee Club since its earliest days, when it started as an eight-member ensemble. Over the course of the Club’s 158 year history, it has been the four-time recipient of the Wale’s Llangollen Eistenfodd, an international choral award, performed for the President of the United States and the kings and queens of European nations, and has travelled on an annual national tour and quadrennial international tour. If there is any organization that is so perfectly demonstrative of the University’s proud history, there is no better example than the Men’s Glee Club.

The future of music looks incredibly promising at the University of Michigan. One of the many things that sets the University of Michigan apart from many other institutions in the country is its commitment to bringing awareness to social issues and being a moral advocate in the challenges facing our world. Two years ago, the Men’s Glee Club, with the ardent support of SMTD and the University, premiered “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,” a multi-movement work composed by Atlanta composer Joel Thompson that pays homage to the lives of seven unarmed African-American men who lost their lives to police officers. The Glee Club combines this work with an arrangement of John Legend’s “Glory,” and the dynamism of the two pieces strikes a chord in any audience member bearing witness. Such pieces can serve as an example for other organizations that wish to inspire social change. It is often very difficult to perform pieces that may be considered “socially challenging,” especially when there is the reputation of the University to consider. However, the biggest changes are brought about by those who have a tremendous history and reputation behind them. In turn, those groups are composed of the individuals that have the passion and the desire to make their mark on the world. The Men’s Glee Club and the University of Michigan have both been at the forefront of the most challenging issues, and they will continue to do so through the power of music and through the collective intelligence of their students for years to come.

Arthur Mengozzi is a sophomore in the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts planning to declare an International Studies major. He is a member of the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and the University of Michigan Residential College.

OptiMizing Ideas

Maddy Lehman

“Why not me?” This is the question that started the entire idea of optiMize. Our founders began optiMize out of frustration with their own college experiences. They found themselves surrounded by amazingly smart people, had access to resources, and opportunity to do interesting things, and yet they spent most of their time writing papers and taking tests… not actually creating things that make an impact. With the scale of social, environmental, and economic challenges society is facing, they felt that universities needed to become incubators for student projects. And thus optiMize was created. optiMize began five years ago with just four Michigan students who had an idea. We now have over 2,000 in the optiMize community. The first year, we had about 19 teams in our Social Innovation Challenge, where we give teams the funding they need to create their own organization from a social innovation idea. That year we funded five projects, totaling $26,000. Since then, we have had 300 teams participate in optiMize and have raised more than 2 million dollars. Currently, we now have $200,000 to fund teams at our biggest Social Innovation Challenge yet.

Although funding is important to optiMize, we encourage teams to focus less on the financial aspect of optiMize and more on the importance of collaboration within our community. We want individuals to join optiMize because they are passionate about changing the world and want to interact with others who share this passion. We aid students in their endeavors by providing the connections and resources they need to make their ideas into a reality.

This past summer, our fellows met on a weekly basis to focus on their ideas’ progressions and overcome challenges together. Fellows ranged from projects like Seven Mile Music, which worked to put on a music and arts summer camp for students in the Brightmoor area, to LingoMatch, which worked to overcome the role of language barriers in food instability. Despite variation in organization structure and goals, the fellowship put all these aspirational students into one space to give them the support and community they needed.

While we’re proud of how far we have come, we still have much more to do. We want to expand the idea of optiMize campus-wide. While we already have about 2,000 students involved, this is just the beginning. The passion behind optiMize has proved to be contagious and we want all Michigan students to feel the same excitement we do about social innovation and entrepreneurship. With recognition from NPR, Forbes, and increasing support from LSA, we know that we’re not the only ones who believe in the innovation based future of education.

Our network of 2,000 has already increased the accessibility of STEM education in Peruvian high schools, harvested over 50,000 lbs of produce from urban farms in Detroit, and distributed millions of dollars of wasted medical supplies to hospitals in need. If the entire university got involved in optiMize, the structure of education would be very different from what it is today, becoming less focused on schoolwork and more focused on helping students express their creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial sides. We imagine that Michigan students would be committed to an education focused on making a difference and relentlessly pursuing a positive future. While we’re moving in this direction, we could be doing more.

With the media constantly reporting the negative, it can sometimes be hard to keep an optimistic mindset. Students should instead focus on the potential for positive change in the world. If we put the appropriate resources and trust in our student body, hold ourselves responsible for creating the world we want to live in, and utilize the knowledge that surrounds us, we can change the world ourselves. We still have a far way to go and, instead of seeing it as a challenge, we see it as an exciting opportunity. optiMize is growing exponentially as each year passes and we are eager to watch our community expand throughout Michigan’s campus. This movement is driven by students continuously asking themselves: “Why not me?”

Maddy Lehman and Zoya Gurm are on the content creation team within optiMize. Maddy is a senior majoring in Communications and International Studies while Zoya is a sophomore studying English and Biomolecular Science.

Trans at U of M: Past, Present, and Future

Emily Kaufman

I entered this University with hope and a desire to live my life as my authentic self. I started in the Fall of 2014, with a different name, and a different presentation; being a man was simply a façade. Being transgender, I struggled to determine when to come out to people, or if I should even come out at all. Despite living in gender inclusive housing (which was in it’s second year of existence at the time), I did not have a sense of community with transgender women. I knew of only one other girl like me at the University who was out. As the years progressed, I met more and more transwomen, yet still only knew 10 by my senior year. With 40,000 students on campus, that was hardly enough to feel any true sense of community. And besides, us transwomen all live diverse lives and rarely interact with each other.

I often think about how things have changed during my years at U of M, and how they have stayed the same. My freshman year, after starting my medical transition, I was not allowed to use the women’s bathroom in my dorm, East Quad, because my ID and the University records still had me as listed as a male. Key Card access was required, and while I used the women’s bathroom in the public area of the dorm, I was restricted from using the bathroom down the hall from me. This was extremely aggravating for me, because I could only use the gender neutral bathroom and only two out of these four bathrooms were exclusive to people living in gender-inclusive living. I remember times where I had to walk up and down the stairs looking for a bathroom to shower in or to relieve myself. As a result of my complaints, the University revised their policy. I now know a freshman transgender man, whose ID has not been changed, but is allowed to use the men’s bathroom. This made me realize that I have personally created a change at this university, and made at least a few people’s lives easier.

One thing that has not changed, however, is the many professors at this University who have frigid, and even degrading, reactions to my complaints about being mistreated or required readings/lectures being problematic and transphobic. Primarily, my concerns lie with the Women’s Studies’ department, where I feel as though I’m drowning in a sea of cisgender oppression, and am no longer excited to say that I am a Women’s Studies’ major. It took me a year after I declared my major to realize that the Women’s Studies department at the University of Michigan was not made for women like me. It is, in essence, the cisgender women’s studies department. My prior major, Social Theory and Practice, was equally trans-exclusionary. My advisor even told me that since there were not enough trans-centric classes, I should maybe consider a different institution to pursue my studies. The utter disrespect I have received, from faculty nonetheless, is unacceptable. Naturally, a few students have made derogatory comments, but the majority of my grievances have been with professors, faculty, and staff.

In order for the University of Michigan to truly be an accepting environment for transgender people, there needs to be mandatory trans-sensitivity trainings for all faculty and staff. Many faculty who “study” trans topics, think that their knowledge of trans issues and topics surpasses mine in every context, despite me having actually experienced these. Until faculty and staff learn to respect transgender students 100% of the time, the University of Michigan will continue to marginalize and oppress transgender students.

I believe that the experiences of trans people at the Michigan will continue to improve as time goes on, especially as more and more trans people are open and active in pursuing trans equality. I personally long for the day when a collective of transwomen engage in transfemme centric activism, and use their platform and experiences to help make all trans people feel welcome and accepted on campus. That day will come; it is just a question of when. Trans issues are finally on the national radar, and the numbers of people coming out and living as their authentic selves are growing. During my time on campus, I’ve witnessed this right here in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan will continue to improve, although it may not always be linear. I hope trans people on campus 20 years from now will still feel the same hope I felt when I first started here, but not in the fleeting way that I have experienced it.

Emily Kaufman is a senior in LSA and hopes to attend law school upon graduation. Emily is the president and founder of LGBT+ Michigan, the first umbrella LGBTQ student organization at the University of Michigan. She also advises the University on policy issues, and actively promotes trans equality on campus and nationally.