For some, the second semester at Penn stirs up memories of long lines of black parkas snaking the sidewalks, social calendars packed with date nights and formals, and newfound bonds of brother and sisterhood. These are elements of the Greek life culture that capture the attention of some Penn students during formal recruitment each spring semester. This year, recruitment will look different as Greek organizations adapt the rush ritual to comply with Penn’s Student Campus Compact. While formal rush is virtual and sets a good precedent for the incoming first years, this adherence to COVID-19 restrictions should not be a facade. Greek life organizations must follow Penn’s Student Campus Compact despite the temptations to host events; the actions taken by Greek organizations will set the tone for the semester and affect more than just their members.
This spring, formal recruitment will be held virtually. This meant serious training over the last few months so recruitment chairs would be prepared to use Zoom and the breakout room function in order to conduct recruitment with relative ease. Additionally, with the help of websites such as meetsy.io, more informal conversations between prospective and active members have been taking place to answer questions about the rush process and give prospective members a better sense of the Greek culture. Greek life has, therefore, seemingly transitioned to a virtual platform, but this accordance with restrictions and regulations should not be limited to the formal rush process.
Just because rush is being conducted virtually does not mean that Greek life could not be responsible for any potential spread of COVID-19 on campus in the future. Other outlets for spread could include Bid Day or Bid Night events that bring on and off-campus residents indoors without masks, outdoors in groups greater than 10, or to any other parties thrown off campus. Greek life, however, has the potential to take the lead this semester and show their predominantly first-year new members how to have a safe, yet rewarding, semester. The momentum of their promising start must continue.
If Greek organizations were to neglect COVID-19 precautions and instead endorse the notion of herd immunity or rely on youth as a safeguard from the negative repercussions of COVID-19, the consequences could be immense. While the data remains elusive, it is said that individuals can be reinfected by COVID-19. Other universities have seen the contagious nature of Greek partying during the fall. At one point, the University of Tennessee had 779 active cases of COVID-19, some of which stemmed from secret fraternity parties. Even in Philadelphia, unsanctioned Greek life parties occurred. Penn’s Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter found that at one unnamed Philadelphia Greek House, 39 percent of the students living there tested positive for COVID-19. Even on Penn’s campus, parties were captured by the Instagram account @irresponsibleatpenn. Although none were linked to Greek organizations, the social nature of Greek life raises concerns because of the aforementioned events at other universities.
While it may sound cliché, Penn truly is a community. The actions taken by a few can ripple outwards and affect others. If Greek organizations become super-spreaders, the entire Penn and West Philadelphia community could potentially face greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Penn feared the problems associated with Greek life and communal housing this past semester after hearing reports of large gatherings, prompting more widespread testing and mitigation efforts. The university recognizes that Greek organizations are not isolated from Penn, and that they could spur spikes in positive rates of COVID-19.
The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life’s website includes a statement about the people involved in Greek life: “We are the vanguard, the forward-thinking leaders of the fraternity and sorority community at Penn, and we’re here to reinvent the meaning of Greek.” Reinventing what it means to be Greek starts now. Being social and building relationships does not need to happen in a crowded backlot or at a downtown event; it can start on Zoom or in small groups outside with masks. Whatever the means, it is time for Greek organizations to prove they can foster forward-thinking leadership and create outside-of-the-box solutions in the face of an obstacle. Fraternities and sororities must embody the values that OFSL claims they follow as the semester progresses.
First years will benefit from health-minded, risk averse leadership from Greek organizations, and the ripple effect of Greek leadership could prove to be intrinsically connected to the success Penn has in limiting COVID-19. Members themselves can mitigate the risks taken by their respective organizations by speaking up to executive board members if they feel uncomfortable and concerned with the actions of their peers or the chapter as a whole. Greek life cannot opt out of the pandemic, so the chapters must step up or face the consequences.
ISABELLA GLASSMAN is a College sophomore studying Philosophy, Politics, & Economics from Suffern, N.Y. Her email is email@example.com.