COVID-19 has affected all aspects of student life and completely revolutionized socialization — Fraternity and Sorority Life has been no exception. Fraternities and sororities — traditionally known for hosting parties, hangouts and large social events — have had to adapt to state laws and school-specific COVID-19 mitigation rules, including gathering restrictions, mask mandates and virtual recruitment.
Parties, socialization and networking typically are allures of Fraternity and Sorority Life; during the pandemic, these allures have been greatly diminished due to the drastic decrease of in-person activities which, for the most part, have been replaced with Zoom sessions and other online events.
This year, the College’s fraternities and sororities conducted recruitment virtually in order to ensure the safety of all, at the same time allowing both on-campus and remote students to equally participate in the process. While Zoom recruitment was certainly a logistical challenge and a difficult transition for sorority and fraternity executives accustomed to traditional recruitment, the virtual setting also made it more difficult for potential new members to determine which chapters would be the best fit for them personally. However, despite the difficulties of Zoom meetings, which tend to hinder bonding between members, the College’s fraternities and sororities seem to have adapted well to the restrictions.
Grace Haffner ’21 served as president of Pi Phi in 2020, leading her sorority through the pandemic and virtual recruitment. While Haffner acknowledged the logistical difficulties and unpleasant side effects of an entirely virtual recruitment process, she also saw some benefits to the method.
“There were some positives to an online experience — faster rounds, less standing and waiting outside for long hours for potential new members, ability to dress more comfortably, etc.,” Haffner said. “However, the platform itself makes the typical logistics of recruitment much harder. Typically, we have two to three girls come around to potential new members per round. With so many women at once, it was hard to utilize breakout rooms seamlessly.”
Pi Phi was successful in both recruiting new members and fostering sisterhood, despite the untraditional Zoom platform for weekly meetings. While bonding between members has been more difficult due to the cancellation of traditional events, including the new member retreat, Pi Phi still managed to encourage sisterhood through socially distant outdoor events like walks around campus and Pilates classes, as well as through the big/little sister relationships and breakout rooms during Zoom sessions. This semester, Pi Phi hopes to host outdoor, socially distant picnics.
For Haffner, while socially distant and virtual events are disappointing when compared to in-person activities, the sorority experience during COVID-19 has nevertheless been valuable.
“All in all, many, many events we hold near and dear such as sisterhood events, date parties, chapter meetings and initiation were moved to Zoom or a virtual platform,” Haffner said. “It is hard to replace sisterhood through a screen for a whole semester, but many tight-knit relationships were still fostered … We have certainly gotten creative — nothing will replace the traditional in-person experience, but I speak for myself and others by saying I am very glad I had Pi Phi to lean on during this unexpected return to campus. In the face of so much change and uncertainty, it served as a constant.”
Benjamin Gittelman ‘22, member education chair of Beta Theta Pi, has only experienced fraternity life in the midst of the pandemic, having pledged last spring. According to Gittelman, Beta Theta Pi saw a decrease in new members this year compared to regular years.
“We got much less new members than we were able to get last fall, but we know the guys that did join are people we can trust and people we respect,” Gittelman said in a written statement. “It’s tough for organizations like fraternities where the merit of joining is always so explicit (hanging out in big groups on the weekend, studying together, playing sports together, getting food together), when those things can put people in danger.”
Because Beta held all weekly meetings and rush events with more than two or three people over Zoom, the lack of in-person interaction between various friend groups has affected the social dynamic of the fraternity.
“A large group of people always forms cliques and not ever being able to see the entire fraternity only encourages this,” Gittelman said. “With new members, it’s especially difficult. Thankfully, I live in the on-campus house, but there are several new members who have never met some of the guys in the fraternity.”
While many chapters have seen a significant decrease in new members, the College’s Delta Delta Delta sorority, despite anticipating lower numbers due to restricted socialization opportunities and the Zoom format, actually ended up on par with previous years in terms of new member recruitment, welcoming over 30 new women to the chapter.
Jana El-Sayed ’21, Tri Delta’s 2020 president, studied remotely during the fall semester, as did several other returning chapter members, which prevented them from meeting new members in person during the semester. Remote returning members, combined with gathering restrictions, complicated communication, especially with newer members.
“These changes and the loss of our bigger philanthropy and social events certainly created a different environment and made it more difficult to meet new people and stay in touch ‘organically’, but I think our officers did a phenomenal job of always providing opportunities for members to safely engage in activities,” El-Sayed said. “Staying in touch was certainly easier for older members because there was a precedent, while meeting new members proved to be a bit more difficult.”
El-Sayed also expressed that the COVID pandemic affected her sorority going into the future in another aspect — the overall restructuring allowed Tri Delta to redefine their goals and priorities and focus on furthering inclusivity and diversity in the present and in years to come.
While Zoom is not an ideal medium to conduct recruitment and events, Ryan Klopp ‘22, secretary for the College’s Lambda Chi Alpha colony, thinks that some recruitment techniques implemented as a result of the pandemic were not only beneficial but may have a lasting impact on the way in which his fraternity conducts recruitment in the future.
“In lieu of the large gatherings and open houses which characterized recruitment in past years, we switched to a much more individualized recruitment process — brothers would individually reach out to potential candidates, and if mutual interest was established, the potential new members would be invited to meet other brothers in one-on-one and small-group settings such as lunches,” Klopp said. “While this required a bit more ‘legwork’ than rush in past semesters, it allowed brothers to build more meaningful connections with the candidates before introducing them to the general brotherhood — a lesson which we will certainly learn for future recruitment cycles.”
Lambda Chi successfully hosted safe gatherings and followed the College’s guidelines by reserving outdoor spaces in advance and distributing sign-up sheets prior to events, something which helped ensure the College’s gathering limit was respected at all times. The fraternity also bought Lambda Chi Alpha masks to distribute to its members in the hopes of encouraging bonding and promoting brotherhood. While in-person events were difficult to coordinate and did not allow for the entire fraternity to ever be physically present in the same location, Klopp thought that the challenges increased the sense of brotherhood.
“The rewards offered by the chance to see our brothers in person in this socially-distanced semester made the extra work well worth it — I would even go so far as to say that these meetings helped strengthen our connection with our newer members, as the stresses of this semester reminded everyone of the value of seeing friends in person,” Klopp said.
As the spring 2021 semester unfolds with COVID-19 mitigation rules still in place, Greek life at the College and across the country will continue to adapt and evolve under the ever-changing circumstances.