Oregon State University students are well aware that the upcoming fall term will differ significantly from previous years. Many students may opt to stay home and out of the university’s dorms as OSU delivers around 90% of their classes remotely. Yet, some may choose to come back to Corvallis, particularly members of OSU’s fraternity and sorority life, whose community is largely based around their chapters, houses, and various group events and activities throughout the year.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, poses many challenges for OSU Greek life, and for the 1,000 to 1,500 OSU students who typically live in residential fraternities and sororities located off-campus.
Alpha Phi’s Housing Contract
Recently, the mother of an OSU student and Alpha Phi member, who requested anonymity in speaking with The Advocate, said her daughter was unable to break a housing contract that was signed prior to the coronavirus outbreak – despite the student’s underlying health condition. She’s concerned about students living in close quarters in the house, and highlighted the surge of COVID-19 cases in other fraternities and sororities across the U.S.
Leslie Schacht Drey, the associate dean of students and director for the Center for Fraternity & Sorority Life, said each residential fraternity and sorority house is privately owned and operated, so each chapter is responsible for their own plans, which includes any agreements with residents or members. Consequently, decisions regarding housing contracts and collecting chapter dues can vary from house to house.
No Comment from Greek Houses
Alpha Phi, in addition to fourteen other OSU fraternity and sorority chapter presidents, were contacted for this story and asked about their housing contracts for the upcoming school year. But at the time of publication, The Advocate had received no responses.
In an email response, Schacht Drey said OSU fraternities and sororities are collectively prioritizing adherence to best public health practices in fall planning, and each chapter is individually navigating plans to reopen for residents.
“Some examples of the approaches include reduced occupancy, required face coverings, enhanced cleaning measures, adjustments to dining procedures, restricted access to non-residents and guests, rearranged sleeping quarters and more,” she said.
Despite precautions taken by OSU’s fraternities and sororities, other universities across the United States show that navigating Greek life and college residential living could be tricky amid the coronavirus pandemic.
At the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, at least 165 of 290 COVID-19 cases identified by the school had been associated with its Greek Row. And more recently, Indiana University announced that COVID-19 positivity testing rates in certain Greek and communal homes was above 50%.
The Shift to a Virtual, Unconventional Fall
Schacht Drey said the university is continuing to engage in education with OSU’s fraternities and sororities while encouraging compliance with Benton County Health Department guidance, the governor’s executive orders, Corvallis Fire Department guidelines, and other requirements that may apply to them as a residential living community.
“I believe students are excited to return to resume their education at OSU. I think they also understand that this fall term will be very different than past fall terms,” she said. “I do anticipate that some students will return to their residential fraternities and sororities, but that fall term occupancy will be reduced.”
Looking forward, Schacht Drey said one of the biggest challenges for OSU Greek life is adjusting to a predominantly virtual experience during the pandemic. However, she’s been impressed by the innovative ways OSU fraternities and sororities approached things such as virtual recruitment and intake, building brotherhood and sisterhood, and holding virtual events and meetings to keep members actively involved.
“I’m hopeful that members will stay engaged and continue to gain important personal connections outside the classroom and a sense of belonging from their membership experience, even during this time of mostly virtual interactions,” Schacht Drey said.
New Guidelines for OSU Fraternities & Sororities
Regardless of housing contracts, OSU’s fraternities and sororities are making adjustments as a result of COVID-19, similar to the university.
In a recent statement, the Governing Councils of OSU (including the Collective Greek Council, Interfraternity Council, the Multicultural Greek Council, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Panhellenic Council) released the following actions and guidelines to be established and implemented:
1) The laws, policies, and procedures of Oregon and Oregon counties will continue to be enforced by OSU’s councils and chapters on and off-campus.
2) Greek undergraduates at OSU will refrain from hosting any social get togethers that exceed any caps or restrictions set by the state or University and will avoid hosting social get-togethers until it is determined that they can do so safely.
3) OSU’s fraternities and sororities will practice physical distancing and will be informative and educational within their community and chapters about responsible citizenship, safety measures, and public health initiatives.
4) OSU’s fraternities and sororities will explore and evaluate how to manage and monitor events while being innovative in developing new ways to engage with their members and campus, such as their commitment to full virtual recruitment.
5) OSU’s fraternities and sororities will hold their members accountable and encourage their peers across campus to follow their lead in keeping OSU and the Corvallis community healthy and safe.
Those in violation of these guidelines will be referred to student conduct and their organization will be referred to their respective council’s judicial processes, according to the statement.
More information on OSU’s fraternity and sorority response to COVID-19 can be found on the OSU website.
By Jada Krening