USD’s Greek Life organizations have seen a reduction in the number and types of official social events since the start of the pandemic last March.
Laura Anderton, director of sorority and fraternity life at USD, said the university’s normal policy for approving social events for fraternities and sororities involves registration 10 business days prior to the event through USD Involved, or at the minimum 48 hours in advance. The chapter registering the event has to answer a series of questions, including a risk management question about whether there will be alcohol at the event, following the Board of Regents policies on alcohol consumption.
Due to the university placing some restrictions on in-person social gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there are new guidelines this year. The USD Involved event registration also asks about how the group intends to implement social distancing, mask wearing and other COVID-19 precautions.
“We always reserve the right that if we don’t think that the submission is producing a safe event, we can deny the event,” Anderton said. “Most of the time, when we review it, we try and look and see if there are ways that we can help them to approve the event, and we’ll have some back and forth with chapters.”
Josh Weisbrod, president of USD’s Inter-Fraternity Council, which coordinates events with Greek Life chapters, said social gatherings for Greek Life organizations have been severely limited this year.
“Social gatherings under this policy have been nigh-on non-existent this year,” Weisbrod said. “I mean, if you compare, like the number of gatherings that have happened this year to a normal year, it’s been much, much slower.”
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Weisbrod said for the first few weeks of the semester after Christmas break, the policy was no events at all, other than chapter meetings, since chapters already live together.
Greek Life chapters on campus range in size from between 60 to 80 members for the average fraternity and about 100 members for the average sorority. Anderton said the size of these groups makes things difficult, as the university is trying to discourage gatherings in large groups.
“They are, at their root, social organizations, and so they want to be social, but do so in a safe manner,” Anderton said.
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COVID-19 has also posed difficulties for Greek Life chapters in terms of recruitment. Anderton said this comes from a general reduction in people meeting in person, as well as financial strains brought on in the past year.
“Fraternities and sororities do have a cost to their membership,” Anderton said. “So we know that there has been a challenge for some.”
Greek Life chapters have hosted outdoor events to accommodate for social distancing, including a recent chili feed. However, Weisbrod said to his knowledge there haven’t been any official events where alcohol has been served at all this semester.
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“There’s not a good way to social distance and serve alcohol at the same time,” Weisbrod said.
The Board of Regents intends for USD to return to normal next semester, with limits on social gatherings lifted and a return to a pre-COVID-19 life. Weisbrod said if that works out, he would like to see a return to social events indoors.
“We’re hoping to return to a new normal. Of course, I don’t know that anything will ever be completely back to normal, but we’re hoping to return to as close to normal as possible,” Weisbrod said. “Go get vaccinated.”
Anderton said the university is working on two plans for the fall semester: a first priority plan and a contingency plan. For now, regular events are being scheduled on the calendar for next semester.
“Our Executive Council looks very closely at the local numbers and takes into consideration how Clay County and how Vermillion and the state of South Dakota is doing as we decide whether or not we’re going to implement certain policies,” Anderton said.”
Anderton said the challenge will be going back to a normal that involves bringing back this year’s leaders and students haven’t seen.
“We have an entire year’s worth of leaders and students that have not seen normal,” Anderton said. “And so all they know is how we do it in a COVID world.”