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Credit: Max Mester

As COVID-19 continues to complicate Greek life traditions, Penn's eight Panhellenic sororities reported a decline in rush turnout, which was largely held virtually in light of the pandemic. 

This spring was the second in a row that sororities reported a drop in recruitment numbers. Fewer than 450 students rushed a sorority this spring, according to Nursing junior and Panhellenic vice president of recruitment Jenny Chang, down significantly from last year's 550 students. The Interfraternity Council could not provide exact numbers for recruitment.

Chang said, however, that Panhel sororities also saw a “much better retention rate” than compared to previous years, adding that sororities did not see significant shortages of members. 

Nursing sophomore and Alpha Kappa Delta Phi rush chair Angela Ding said her sorority, which is part of the Intercultural Greek Council, experienced a turnout drop from 60-70 students to 30-40 students on average in the fall, a number which held steady in the spring.

With the Student Campus Compact prohibiting large gatherings of students to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life modified recruitment to be completely virtual.

“All rush activities are to be held virtually. There is no exception,” associate vice provost for Student Affairs Tamara Greenfield King previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The IFC had to make adjustments to the rush process for its 25 Greek organizations. Prior to the pandemic, IFC recruitment consisted of in-person activities, along with open and closed rushes. The IFC Expo, once an in-person event, was held over Zoom on Jan. 20. Representatives from fraternities, rather than manning tables and information booths, talked to prospective members in Zoom breakout rooms.

Under current guidelines, the IFC organizations must forego the usual social events that have characterized rush, such as game nights, mini-golf, and sports watch parties. College senior Matt Garber, president of Delta Tau Delta, said the lack of such events did not negatively impact the rush process. 

“We talk every year at the start of our recruitment process about what made each of us join the fraternity,” Garber said. “And every single time, the reason is never ever, ‘I thought the events were fun.’ The reason is always that they felt like the people around them in the chapter were interested in them and value them, or they felt like they were already growing to be a part of a community.”

Chang said Panhel also made a number of changes to their spring rush. Recruitment time was reduced slightly, ranging from Sunday, Jan. 17, to Friday, Jan. 22, instead of the usual Monday to Sunday. Panhel Convocation and open house events were split between recorded and synchronous sessions, held over Zoom. Sororities also used apps like the PNM Companion app to organize information, such as the schedule of rush events.

“The whole concept of recruitment stayed the same,” said Chang. “But instead of meeting in the house and having to shout over each other like last year, it was over Zoom and then breakout rooms."

Some Greek life leaders said that conducting rush virtually was difficult and may have been less attractive to potential recruits.

“I know some freshmen don't use Facebook, which is our main marketing platform,” Ding said. 

“Also, just maybe, uncertainty. I think sophomores are wary of their time on campus,” Ding said, adding that some students are worried about the possibility that Penn may suspend on-campus operations if the pandemic worsens.

Ding's co-rush chair, College sophomore Julia Ongchoco, also acknowledged that virtual events may not be as attractive to prospective members as Zoom fatigue may be setting in.

“It is such a shame that it's all virtual right now. You don't really get the same connection,” Ongchoco said. “It's in classes as well. It's just really tough, and I do hope that we're gonna be able to have an in-person rush again soon.”