By Drew Jasper
Colleges throughout the United States have been working tirelessly to figure out the safest option for the fall. Many schools have opted to not meet in person; a scenario that would take the starch out of college life, and perhaps the life out of the Greek system.
After losing a 21-year-old to COVID-19 on June 30th, Penn State’s IFC announced that they will be freezing all social events for the foreseeable future.
The clock has been running for quite some time. Over the years, terrible things have happened inside fraternities, things that have rightly cast a long shadow over the brotherhood. COVID-19 may be the final straw, the reason some schools use to phase out Greek life altogether. Or maybe, it’ll just be another layer of complexity to navigate for those who are already members and those interested in going Greek.
People from the ages of 18-29 are among the lowest risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19. This fact, combined with an irrational sense of invincibility, has caused many college students to not take quarantining as seriously as they should.
Precautions are being implemented in different schools and states to prevent the spread of a disease that thrives in a close, indoor environment. Texas Christian University is cutting all of its Greek events in half in terms of how many can attend. They have also decided to add online sessions for interested members and their parents to virtually learn about the different chapters, what they’re all about, and how each intends to coexist and socialize safely. Matt Gill will be returning as a sophomore in the fall and knows it will be an even harder sell than usual for some mom and dads. He says, “Most organizations are just trying to reach the bare minimum.” At many schools, if a house does not meet occupancy then that chapter ceases to exist. The repercussions at TCU are not as strict as other institutions but still sting nonetheless. If a chapter does not meet its house occupancy at TCU, then it is unable to host social events throughout the year.
The fraternities at the University of Washington have something called Summer Live In, which is exactly as it sounds. Sororities and fraternity members alike return to school early and live in the fraternity houses together. The University does not own the Greek houses affiliated with their school, which gives them little say in what goes on inside. The only regulation implemented by UW's Intrafraternity Council was to lower the capacity in the homes from 100 to 80 people. No regulations for wearing masks, no limits to social gatherings. Parents of participating UW students knew the risks involved and reportedly made sure their kids did, too. As of July 10th, the university announced that 136 fraternity residents had tested positive for COVID-19 and all the houses are quarantining. A friend who didn't want her name used says, "It’ll be interesting to see what Greek life looks like after quarantine… I am curious to see if they make any changes.” As for her parents, my source (who was among the infected) told me her parents were “just happy that everyone recovered well and no one was hospitalized.”
There was a similar, recent outbreak at the University of California, Berkeley. The school's case count tripled in one week to 95 students, a spike Cal says also traces back to fraternity parties. The gatherings weren’t even held at a Greek house; members met up elsewhere, indoors and without masks or social distancing. Some of these infections led to secondary spread within households.
As a yet to be initiated fraternity member myself, I am hesitant to return to campus in the wake of COVID-19. During our second-semester rush, some of the Greek organizations at Lehigh University didn’t follow the rules put into place by the institution. That blatant disregard caused the school to halt all of Greek life for a month while its IFC board drafted new bylaws. Many pledges only had one week of initiation rather than the average six to eight. So, not only am I not yet a brother, but I'm staring at the unknown. Lehigh hasn't yet released its laundry list of changes; we only know that all social gatherings will be limited to 25 people or less and that Greek life members will still be allowed to live in the school-owned fraternity houses.
People from the ages of 18-29 are among the lowest risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19. This fact, combined with an irrational sense of invincibility, has caused many college students to not take social distancing as seriously as they should. The mentality college kids have about COVID-19 dramatically differs from those who are significantly older.
However, the risks are all too real. After losing a 21-year-old to COVID-19 on June 30th, Penn State’s IFC announced that they will be freezing all social events for the foreseeable future. Many colleges have yet to publicize what they will be doing going forward with regard to Greek life. At this point, all anybody can do is wait, watch the virus, and hope for the best.
Drew Jasper is a sophomore at Lehigh University and plans to major in journalism and write for the Brown & White this coming year.