Story by EMMA SELLERS
Dealing with COVID-19 has been no easy feat for institutions and organizations across the globe this past year, and each has experienced hectic changes, including college Greek life. University of Utah’s Greek life is doing its best to smoothly transition to the world of virtual living and social distancing. Though this “new normal” is not ideal, keeping the community alive and strong is a priority for all sororities and fraternities across campus.
This year has been unlike any that the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life has encountered before, and many challenges have arisen. The greatest being that all events are required to be virtual, and a large aspect of Greek life is having a connected community. It is hard to create a close-knit community when people never get an opportunity to see one another face to face.
This challenge has been especially hard on freshmen. Any previous year attending the University of Utah and going through the recruitment process guarantees meeting new people and making new friends. Whereas this year, when the opportunity to hang out with the people in your fraternity or sorority is limited, it is much more difficult to bond.
Alpha Phi President Katya Benedict said in a Zoom interview that the Panhellenic Council was “worried about the number of women who would attend recruitment this year.” They believed that it would be a very scarce group of women. Yet, this year went better than they could have expected, and more women signed up for recruitment than in any past year at 550 compared to the usual 400.
Yet, many questioned if joining Greek life and paying the dues was worth it this year, when in-person events were very limited. Matt Economos, the freshman vice president of programming for Sigma Phi Epsilon, said his decision to rush this year was worth it because he now has “a solid group of mentors and a support system to rely on.”
Recruitment was fully virtual for both fraternities and sororities, according to the University of Utah Greek life homepage. Only very small and limited groups of people can meet together, and events need to be approved by the Panhellenic & Interfraternity Council offices. Although the houses of each chapter are not owned by the university, the members are still required to follow the rules of all students as if they were living in university-owned housing.
Though most events are required to be virtual, certain smaller events are allowed to be in person with many safety guidelines being established. Economos conducts small and safe events, such as pairing together older members with new members in masks and socially distanced. He wants each event to present an environment all parties feel safe in. Also, outdoor activities such as snowboarding and hikes can allow for active members to still engage with one another and remain healthy.
A big part of Greek life is the concept of traditions. Traditions that have been passed down for decades through each chapter. Benedict, the Alpha Phi president, expressed the difficulty this year because “many of the events are ritual based, so when members cannot be personally involved it feels less special.”
Despite this difficulty, the executive boards of each chapter are putting in their best effort to keep all members engaged and excited. Benedict believes that “individually the community has stayed strong within each chapter,” but as a greater Greek community she feels they have lost strength. This year everyone was more focused on themselves and figuring out their own plans, rather than supporting all chapters’ endeavors. She believes next year the community as a whole will regain the strength they once possessed.
Tracey Mai, Panhellenic vice president of membership, says her main responsibility is to “foster and build relationships between chapters and a good environment all around.” She said it is easier to hold certain events virtually, such as the alumni panel, because more people can attend. Yet, the greater challenge is encouraging active members to attend events virtually.
A main reason that virtual events this year had a low attendance was due to communication and marketing. Mai said in a Zoom interview that she is “learning how important marketing is and taking that into account next year.” Oftentimes members don’t know what is going on until it is too late.
Benedict said if she could go back and change anything about the past few months, she would “open a greater stream of communication between active members and executive members.” She believes every participant of Greek life deserves to know all the information regarding COVID-19 and be a part of the process of safety measures at every step of the way.
The Instagram pages of the different sororities and fraternities are one of the main forms of marketing that each chapter uses. Not only do they post about upcoming virtual events, they also are very informative about COVID-19 procedures. They each encourage wearing masks and social distancing, and even have “challenges” different weeks where members show on their Instagram page how they are being proactive in staying healthy with COVID-19 precautions. This might entail wearing masks along with wearing chapter letters and taking a photograph.
Just as this virus has been extremely unpredictable these past months, so has planning for next year. Greek life executive boards have no idea what next fall will hold yet, but they are hoping for the chance to have more in-person events. Regardless, they plan to follow all city and state guidelines. If in-person activities are not possible though, they feel more prepared to better function next semester after having experienced this previous year.
Greek life has experienced a year like no other, but has pushed through better than anyone had expected. Mai said the main goal continues to be “keeping up morale and safety within the community.”