Virginia college Greek life changes in the face of COVID-19
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — There are no dodgeball games, cookouts or other rushing events at Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus in Richmond, but fraternities and sororities are still recruiting new brothers and sisters.
The Greek chapters at VCU, and many other Virginia schools, are using Zoom to recruit new members. Some fraternities and sororities believe the challenge of social distancing has strengthened bonds amongst each other as well as their philanthropy efforts.
“Not being able to meet in-person this semester as a whole chapter has been hard, but it has given us more time to focus on our priorities,” said John Rudolph, VCU Pi Kappa Alpha recruitment chair. “Those being our grades, community service and philanthropy.”
VCU’s fraternities and sororities have given around 8,400 hours of time to charities in the last academic year, said LaDarius Thompson, associate director of Civic Engagement and Fraternity and Sorority Life at VCU.
VCU Pi Kappa Alpha is finding alternative methods for their usual events like Bowling Buddy, community clean-ups and food drives, according to Rudolph. Rudolph said the organization is preparing virtual fundraisers using Instagram and Venmo for its annual Fireman’s Challenge, benefitting the Evans-Haynes Burn Center in Richmond.
Bingo donation boards, orders of Campus Cookies, and raffles are just a few of the virtual fundraising challenges Virginia Tech Kappa Alpha sorority are circulating through Instagram and Snapchat stories.
Mojdeh Nourbakhsh, Panhellenic director of risk at Virginia Tech, said that most of its fraternity and sorority causes “are in greater need now more than ever” due to the pandemic.
Kappa Alpha and Kappa Delta at Virginia Tech are raffling Airpods and a TV on social media to fundraise for NRV CARES, a nonprofit advocating for children involved in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court proceedings.
William & Mary Kappa Sigma President Danny Driscoll said the chapter has raised $600 worth of food this semester for the Williamsburg House of Mercy, a local homeless shelter, and plans to raise another $10,000 over this academic year for philanthropy while following COVID-19 guidelines.
These philanthropy efforts are sometimes overshadowed by the notorious social life fraternities and sororities can bring to college campuses. But these social and recruiting events play a large role in establishing the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that is an integral part of the organizations, Driscoll said.
Nourbakhsh said that when recruiting in person, “you get a better feel of their energy and how they would benefit your chapter best.”
Since most of these in-person events cannot happen, many Greek leadership boards decided to decrease semester fees.
“I think it’s so wrong to charge someone $300 when what are they really getting besides to say, ‘I’m in Kappa Sigma?’” Driscoll said.
Although rectangles of faces on a Zoom call have replaced real life meetings, there is no substitute for the brothers and sisters that live together -- a common standard for many fraternities and sororities.
Students have tested positive in Virginia Tech’s Kappa Delta house, said Claudia Wrenn, the sorority’s vice president of membership.
Wrenn said that the organization’s positive students were quarantined off campus until they were well. She said that resident assistants conduct walk-throughs of all on-campus Greek housing, ensuring that masks are worn at all times in common areas and social distancing measures are in place.
Potential issues arise in off-campus housing, where universities do not have much control.
Thompson said that VCU, the Interfraternity Council and VCU Police have met with sororities and fraternities to reiterate state orders and find ways to prevent COVID-19 within Greek-populated houses.
Some of the Greek chapters that ignored college COVID-19 guidelines have suffered the consequences. Radford University suspended the Iota Zeta chapter of its Theta Chi fraternity for not following health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Roanoke Times.
James Madison University also brought Harrisonburg to the top of a USA Today list of college towns with the worst U.S. COVID-19 outbreaks. Twenty percent of JMU students participate in Greek organizations, according to the university’s Fraternity and Sorority Life page.
There are no confirmed links between JMU Greek life and the school’s COVID-19 cases, but Driscoll said that people are connecting the two.
“We don’t want to be the scapegoats that they’re making Greek life into at JMU right now,” Driscoll said.
About 800,000 undergraduate students participated in Greek life across the country in 2018, but VCU Pi Kappa Alpha and William & Mary Kappa Sigma have seen lower recruitment numbers than usual with this year’s freshman class. Virginia Tech Kappa Delta is anticipating even lower numbers for spring recruitment.
Driscoll said Kappa Sigma has not reached half of the number of potential new members he would typically like to have at this point in the semester.
However, he said the unique challenges of this year have created a space for a different bond amongst the incoming class as they “navigate the pandemic together.” Driscoll decided to have a “year-long pledge class” for the 2020-2021 school year to create a longer acclimation period for potential recruits and a greater reach to interested students.
As fraternities and sororities reevaluate chapter goals, they also have time to reflect on Greek life’s impact beyond the college campus, Nourbakhsh said.
Nourbakhsh serves on a national committee created by the National Panhellenic Conference to address underlying racism and noninclusive policies within Greek life.
“There is so much work to be done in our country and starting off with organizations like Greek life and fixing systemic issues is a great start to changing the nation’s perceptions and culture,” Nourbakhsh said.
Students said they are eager to return to regular life.
“Coming from a pandemic and going back to normalcy, whatever normalcy will be, is going to benefit participation, loyalty, interest in these fraternities and sororities because people miss it,” Driscoll said.