The Pi Beta Phi House, a squat building just outside the University of Oklahoma campus, was one of the first sororities to carry national news. The Sisterhood, which favors halos, wings and banners marked “Ring Ching”, like most Greek organizations, had done most of their recruitment online. Members stayed in the house, which can sleep eight women in a single room, and checked out potential new members at Zoom.
On the Friday that ended rush hour, Sisterhood members posted a truly staggering number of Instagram photos of themselves crammed in front of the house, grinning and maskless, wearing matching white and blue outfits and holding Pi Phi signs with their hands threw up. Addison Price, a member who also happens to be Miss Oklahoma 201
Barely a day after the onslaught ended, college staff announced that 23 members of the group had tested positive for Covid-19 and the facility had closed. “Due to the nature of the situation, the entire chapter house is isolated or quarantined and it is forbidden to leave the facility,” the statement said. “A Sisterhood member who lives elsewhere will be among those who have tested positive and will remain in isolation.” The statement spread across campus and then up the chain to national news: the chapter’s Instagram went private, campus joke reports about Pi Phi’s “herd immunity,” students speculated about how seriously members took the school’s demand: “The Day When the news got out, I saw at least two to four Pi Phi girls out to eat on the strip or whatever, ”says one.
A week later, Addison Price, allegedly in quarantine with her sisters, posted a photo of herself in her hometown, an hour away, exercising with a boxing coach. A few days later she was at a concert and restaurant in Oklahoma City. Price didn’t respond to requests for an interview, and it is possible that she was tested and cleared, or that an exception was made for the ruling queen of the state. But the episode was only the first instance in an avalanche of high-profile and rather chaotic Greek home quarantines that initiate a novel routine for back to school: first you move into the house with your sisters, then you lock up.
There are dozen of Greek homes currently being quarantined across the country. The performance of an intimate sisterhood in a single house between people recently scattered across counties and states is a pretty obvious climate for a virus-spreading event. If the prolific photo edition of Pi Beta Phi is any indication, sisterhood life involves plenty of physical contact and open-mouthed cheering. And since the benefit of living in a Greek home is generally understood as having access to carefully curated common space, it makes sense for universities to assume that everyone else is also exposed when a sister is exposed.
At the University of Wisconsin, nine homes will be quarantined under the direction of the county health department. On Indiana University’s Bloomington campus, 30 houses out of 40 are closed. The school recently reported that Greek homes had an eight-fold positivity rate 19 that it found in dormitories. Almost every day brings with it a new lockdown initiative: When I wrote this blog, three houses from the University of Central Florida announced that they too were starting their 14 days.
These quarantines, like most college events this fall, are rarely smooth: a student at the University of Nebraska told me that one of the sororities at her school needed to be quarantined a second time after a member broke the rules and left home and the University of Maryland recently mistakenly banned – and subsequently released – a Sigma Kappa Chapter based on a faulty Covid-19 test. In some cases, students are asked to leave the Greek home and quarantine at home due to insufficient space.
What not to mention is college students will be college students. When asked if students would quarantine on their campus, a 19-year-old University of Texas student immediately replied, “Oh yeah, sure. Many people have isolated themselves to party because they are not really being monitored. “
For example, given that members can often be split between the chapter house and off-campus apartments, quarantining an entire Greek organization right after a large event can be difficult. A Texas A&M senior citizen named Erica, a former sorority member, said she was one of the first to tell the school that the Bid Day celebrations were inconsistent with CDC protocol: she describes gatherings from 75 to 150 people inside and outside the Greek houses. Some chapters are “slightly better than others” when it comes to wearing masks, but most flaunt college rules or just take precautions when it comes to official photo ops.
In late August, A&M quarantined two sororities after exposure to Covid-19, and Erica says the people who live in the homes may be scarce on themselves but the off-campus members certainly don’t: ” These girls who don’t live in the houses go out to restaurants, shop for groceries and still go to bars and parties without masks, “she says.
Media attention was caught by Greek house lockdowns, unfortunately for members, is quite funny objectivelyhas apparently caused some salty feelings from sisterhood members who are already feeling offended.
An A&M student and Kapitel alumnus showed me an email that they said was distributed to the community along with the university directors’ contact information as an “example of a wonderfully worded strong letter” to send, “If you are frustrated with the way Greek life is treated from university now. “It began with a recitation of the values of Texas A&M – leadership, loyalty, that sort of thing – along with the claim that those values were” disregarded by giving the names of two unsuspecting sororities without warning to hundreds of thousands of people across the country the members of these student groups. “
The letter went on in kind:
“As a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, I had the firsthand shock to discover that I had to be quarantined for 14 days while the rest of the country found out it was me.
I could describe to you the panic that groups of 19 year old young women experienced as they looked out the window to find the media on the lawn of their home, take photos and ask them questions they got because of the university none of the responses chose to share private information about them without giving their leaders an opportunity to adequately inform them.
I could describe the fear hundreds of members felt when we switched our social media accounts to private, removed Greek letters from our bio, and tried to hide any affiliation with our sisterhood for fear that the media would harm us or people would be ambushed with a pre-existing grudge against Greek life now has a new reason to verbally attack us.
I can describe to you the shock of my mother, a medical doctor, when I heard that my university had compromised my privacy in a HIPAA violation by publishing the names of these organizations. ”
Unfortunately, perhaps the best we hear from Kappa when Erica, the ex-sorority member, told me that most of the people involved in the life of the sorority were convinced that when they came across the Greek, they would be convinced Homes on campus said the country was breaking statutes and fines.
Some schools are far more likely to quarantine sororities than fraternities, a tendency that a University of Nebraska student Hailey Showalter calls “double standards” – which can be imagined when fraternities are planning to definitely check out. “Sororities present cases and quarantine according to CDC guidelines,” she says, “but frats are the only ones who have parties and inevitably have cases. But we as students have only heard of one connection in each case. ”
And at NYU, where Greek life is more about on-campus suits and off-campus apartments, a student named Fletcher Peters, who lives above Brotherhood members, says she can hear them throwing parties through the floor. In-person recruiting has been suspended, she says, but she keeps hearing rumors of “underground” parties, invitations-only events, to add to the online rush. She can hear all of these fellows talking very clearly about recruiting right under her feet during their weekly tantrums. But she’s grateful for the Covid-19 compliance email address where she can at least report the violation: “Usually,” she says, “you would only report them to 311.”