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U-M 'Greeks': The Road Back

U-M 'Greeks': The Road Back image
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Housemothers are pretty much a thing of the past on college campuses today, but once they were as much an institution as the sororities and fraternities they staffed. This photograph appeared in the May 24, 1952, edition of The News. Mrs. Leila Vibert, housemother of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, chats with (from left) Ross M. Pfalzgraff, Jack Main and Stanley C. Burns. Not one U-M fraternity has a housemother today, and only a few remain in sorority houses. Their jobs today also have expanded to include supervision of the business side of the house operation.

News Staff Reporter Although sorority and fraternity pins have lost some of their shine, they haven't been turned in yet for scrap gold.
The Greek system on the University of Michigan campus, like on college campuses across the country, is experiencing a revival.
Attitudes may not be the same as those of the '50s and early '60s, when the system was at its peak and members were in the thick of the social whirl. Nor are the attitudes today like those of the mid and late '60s when students were more interested in radical politics than pledge formals. The students joining sorority and fraternity in the '70s are somewhere in between. They are aware of the social issues brought to light during the turmoil of the '60s, but they are looking for friendship and the kind of group involvement which marked the Greek system at its height.
This fall's rush, which ended when bids were received last Sunday night, showed an increase of 42 per cent over last fall's sorority rush, according to Panhellenic adviser Cathy Gullickson. Ninety-one women pledged last fall, 129 this fall.
“Sorority membership hit an all time low in 1972-73 with 116 pledges taken for the whole year - both fall and spring rush," she said. "The system was at its peak in 1966 with membership at a record high of 2,930. Last year there were about 804 girls and this year we expect about 883, including new members and returning members."
Fraternity membership hit a peak in 1965-66 with 1,155 new members pledged to 47 fraternities. Last year there were 446 new members pledged to the 34 fraternities on campus. New membership hit an all time low of 231 new members in 197172 and 306 new members the year before. This year's rush was held last week and new figures were not available.
In 1965, there were 23 sororities. This year there are 17. The decline in membership during the second half of the 1960s and the early 1970s is attributed to the growing student interest in social and political issues.
In a report written in December 1972 by then-Panhellenic advisor Elizabeth Leslie, these changing attitudes were discussed.
"During the second half of the 1960s, a slackening of interest in all traditional organizations was seriously affecting members within Greek letter societies as well as their prospects for pledging,” Ms. Leslie wrote.
"Students' concerns had shifted to broader social and political issues. Human rights, the draft and the upcoming 18-year-old vote stimulated new interest in the local community and national politics. There was also a new need for a private place and time to be alone to get things done according to an individual's own pattern. Although University and fraternity regulations were becoming increasingly relaxed, set meal schedules and time-consuming social functions were losing their former values.
"Sororities were especially affected by changing attitudes,'') she continued. "Many of the older members wanted the experience of living in an apartment during their senior year. Ultimately the general exodus of seniors put the burden of leadership upon juniors and sometimes sophomores who were not ready for the responsibilities. At the same time, successful operation of the chapter house depended upon almost total occupancy. Interest in the rush program flagged and membership gradually dropped.”
Sororities and fraternities of the '50s and '60s were clubbish and often discriminatory, although their primary purpose was to provide students with opportunities to meet other students of both sexes and provide an active, varied social life.
Activities included participation in Homecoming, with sororities and fraternities working together in teams to build floats for the parade competition, serenading of fraternities by sororities, practical jokes, athletic competition, mixers and formal balls like the J-Hop and the Homecoming Ball.
In 1962, 4,000 spectators watched an elephant race as part of that year's Homecoming activities.
Some of the fun things are returning, Mrs. Gullickson said.
“The sororities are serenading like crazy. The fraternities are carrying in the new sorority pledges. They are still having mixers, too,' she said. “And, of course, there is still the Mud Bowl."
The Mud Bowl is held Homecoming Weekend in the field next to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) Fraternity House on the corner of Washington and South University. A football game is held between SAE and another fraternity and during halftime, two sororities, invited by SAE, battle it out in a soccer game.
If it hasn't rained before the game, the field is doused with water. Result: the Mud Bowl.
Both sororities and fraternities still hold pledge formals, some twice a year. These semi-formal dinner dances are usually held at local restaurants to honor new members and induct them into the group. Often, as before, a sorority member will ask a fraternity man to accompany her and vice versa.
Activities aren't the only reason people are returning to the Greek system. People are still joining sororities and fraternities to meet people and make friends.
On their preference forms this year. sorority rushees specified why they wanted to join. Most women said to make friendships that would last throughout University life and after.
Stereotyped images of members of sororities and fraternities still exist, Mrs. Gullickson said. This was also reflected in the forms.
"I was subconsciously hoping to be disappointed but I was obviously pleasantly surprised," one woman wrote.
Another said, "I had a stereotyped view of sororities. I don't like people to have a stereotyped view of me so I thought I'd give sororities a chance."
Still wary of the feelings of their peers about the Greek system, a majority of the rushees this fall signed up for rush by telephone. Sign up tables were set up, though, in the Fishbowl and in the dormitories.
"Many people on campus still have the stereotyped image of sororities and fraternities. The best way to change those attitudes is personal contact with members and potential rushees,” Mrs. Gullickson said.
Publicity for rush began last summer. Sororities and fraternities were given lists of incoming freshmen and their hometowns. Sorority and fraternity members in those towns were encouraged to contact the new students during the summer, to answer questions about the university and sorority and fraternity and to invite them to participate in rush.
Arriving at the dorms, new women students were greeted by sorority members wearing tee-shirts sporting their sorority's name. Fraternity advertising banners were strung across the Diag.
Sorority members were urged to contact' three women (summer meetings, high school friends and transfers) to encourage them to rush.
Once sorority rush registration is over, the formal rushing process begins. It starts off with mixers, from which the rushees are to narrow their choices to half for second meetings. Attendance at third meetings and final desserts" are by invitation only from the sororities
Only four women this fall were not placed in a sorority, and they are expected to go through open rush. Mrs. Gullickson said it is rare for a student not to be placed. She attributed it. to rushees only putting down one preference for membership and to sororities filling their house quotas.
Open rush, which consists of informal meetings between students and sorority members, is held during the year.
Fraternity rush is more informal than sorority rush, with a week of open houses and dinners at the fraternities a man is interested in. Then invitations to join are sent out by fraternities.
Open rush also goes on throughout the year on a similar basis to sorority open rush.
Warren Winter, president of the Fraternity Cooperative Council (Interfraternity Council voted itself out of existence in 1970 due to lack of interest and participation), attributed the current rise in interest to the desire to make a group of friends and to have comfortable living quarters.
"Rushing has been picking up for the last two years,” he said. “The spirit is not the same as it was, say 15 years ago. It is livening up but in a different way. The whole rushing process is more informal and not as competitive as it used to be. Fraternities are more informal. They cooperate more with each other and worry if other fraternities don't take in many new members.
“In the past, there was a surplus of people wanting to join. Now, if people are interested in joining a fraternity, there are more opportunities." Two fraternities came back on campus this fall, Phi Sigma Kappa and Delta Kappa Epsilon. Triangle, Zeta Psi and Zeta Beta Tau are trying to reorganize.
"There are several reasons, I think, that interest is picking up. First, it is cheaper to live in a fraternity (or sorority) house than in a dorm or apartment. Second, there is increased interest in finding a group of friends and sharing a house and its responsibilities.
“Also, it is the convenience of having meals - meals that taste good and are served to you at certain times and the social and athletic activities," Winter said.
“The academic aspects are also attractive. Fraternities (as sororities) overall have a higher grade point average. Some fraternities have scholarship and grant and loan programs.”
An active intramural program with 20 different sports offers a fraternity member an opportunity to get out and play and have a good time.
"You can always get up a team or get on a team if you want,” Winters said.
Will things like Winter Weekend or Michigras be revived?'
“The time might be right,” Winters said. “There is a lack of organized campus wide activities. Attitudes seem more inclined to revive things like that. We will see how our marathon develops."
Participation in the FCC-sponsored dance marathon Oct. 18-20 at the Michigan Union Ballroom is open to the public. The marathon is a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy. Sorority and fraternity couples participating must be sponsored by either their sorority or fraternity at $25 a couple or by a business at $50 a couple.