CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to clarify the evidence by which the Interfraternity Council's Judicial Board will be evaluating violations of the IFC COVID-19 Code of Conduct and Judicial Policy.
Despite the University's implementation of community standards to limit the transmission of COVID-19 during the fall semester, many fear the regulations won’t extend to off-campus fraternities — opening the door for potentially deadly outbreaks.
On July 20, the Office of the Chancellor sent out an email stating that as a condition of enrollment, all students must sign a COVID-19 Notice and Student Acknowledgement. By signing, students acknowledge that they will follow UNC COVID-19 guidelines or risk disenrollment, restrictions to being on campus and disciplinary proceedings.
The Carolina Roadmap has additionally stated that large-scale gatherings will be prohibited this fall.
“... Individuals should avoid gathering in large groups and avoid crowded areas,” the roadmap states. “When indoors, all individuals must wear a face covering or face mask and maintain 6 feet of physical distance or observe facility specific requirements.”
However, social media activists such as the Instagram account @abolishUNCIFCandPanhel have pointed to an N.C. Policy Watch interview with Meg Miller, the former Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house mother, who said that members of the fraternity told her they would not wear masks and would continue to party, regardless of University regulations.
Rising junior Collyn Smith, a public policy major, worries that off-campus fraternities will be able to circumvent University guidelines, endangering the lives of his fellow students.
“Traditionally, these are students who get away with whatever they want, whether it’s sexual assault, gender-based violence, and there’s no regulation,” said Smith. “I think a lot of students are not only tired of that, we’re scared.”
In addition, Smith voiced concerns that unequal enforcement of University COVID-19 guidelines could deepen existing racial inequalities at UNC if majority-white Greek organizations are regulated less strictly than Black and brown students.
While many fraternities and sororities are off campus, UNC’s eight Black fraternities and sororities have housing on campus in Ram Village Apartments.
Smith also pointed out that student behavior could have a larger impact on Chapel Hill locals, especially if fraternity parties aren’t banned.
The Carolina Together website states that UNC's off-campus fraternities and sororities are on private property, and as a part of the Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County, they must follow local ordinances regarding social gatherings and other community guidelines.
Monica Waugh, a Chapel Hill resident, voiced concerns about fraternities holding large parties off campus, as well as the University’s ability to regulate them.
“As a realtor, we’re allowed to show homes to clients, so I think that having the town’s cases go up would impact so many businesses and residents negatively,” she said. “And it would also concern me, in that it would be very irresponsible.”
Waugh also said that, as a former nurse, she’s concerned that UNC Hospitals could be overwhelmed by a spike in cases.
“UNC Hospitals, because they are a state hospital, get more people who may not be insured,” Waugh said. “I think that if those people who are underinsured or not insured didn’t get health care, that would be hard.”
In an email statement via UNC Media Relations, Cassie Hughes Thomas, assistant director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said that the OFSL is working with Greek organizations and housing corporations to develop house management plans compliant with CDC guidelines and with input from the Orange County Health Department.
“Those plans include items related to occupancy, dining protocols, meeting capacities and compliance with local and state government requirements and guidelines,” UNC Media Relations said in an email. “More details and specifics about these plans will be finalized by the end of the month.”
Recent statewide trends indicate that COVID-19 cases are spiking among younger adults, raising concerns about the consequences of any large-scale student gatherings.
“Even though the elderly and people with medical conditions have gotten the most attention in the news, the majority of COVID-19 cases have involved the 18- to 49-year-old age bracket in North Carolina,” said Dr. Jonathan Parr, an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC's School of Medicine.
For Greek life to successfully return to campus, it will require students to make changes to adapt to the current climate, Parr said.
“It means physical distancing from others, using face masks, paying attention to hand hygiene,” Parr said. “While difficult, it means choosing not to attend events where social distancing isn’t practiced, or where substance use might lead to relaxed standards."
Brandon Wacaser, president of the UNC Interfraternity Council, said in a statement to The Daily Tar Heel that the IFC will use its judicial system to enforce a code of conduct and judicial policy passed Wednesday evening.
“The IFC Judicial Board will not tolerate any behavior from member chapters that puts our student body, faculty, or community at risk — this includes social events. Through our judicial system, we do have the ability to enforce regulations put forth by our self-governing body,” he wrote.
The IFC COVID-19 Code of Conduct and Judicial Policy limits member chapters to gatherings of 10 or fewer indoors and 25 or fewer outdoors. Chapters that violate this policy face sanctions ranging from a written warning to possible recruitment restrictions, fines, social probation and loss of University recognition, imposed based on the level of risk posed to public safety.
Will Spillman, vice president of judicial affairs for the IFC, said in an email that the COVID-19 Judicial Policy was greatly influenced by an academic sanctioning chart in UNC’s Instrument of Student Judicial Governance. He said the IFC expects to evaluate violations similar to academic sanctions, in which each case is different and involves a process of considering all mitigating and aggravating evidence before coming to a conclusion.
He said as a baseline, the IFC Judicial Board will consider the following questions when examining cases:
- How many people attended the event?
- To what degree was physical distancing practiced?
- Did attendees wear proper facial covering?
- Did the offending chapter take any other precautions to protect its guests?
- Did this event demonstrate a clear disregard for adverse effects on the University community? (i.e. reckless behavior and/or deliberate intent to hold a gathering in violation of IFC Judicial Policy.)
Wacaser stated that the IFC will partner with the Good Neighbor Initiative to promote social distancing and mask-wearing through a social media campaign, and the IFC has set up a hotline to report violations.
Beta Upsilon Chi’s president, Brett McCraw, said he wants Greek life to return this fall, but he recognizes that things must look different.
“Unfortunately, this thing doesn’t seem to be turning around, so we will have to adapt,” McCraw said. “As a leader, though, I’m excited to work with everybody to figure out creative ways to make it a good fall.”
Thomas, assistant director of OFSL, said the OFSL has met with the executive boards of UNC's four Greek councils to address fall recruitment and intake.
"They are working with each chapter to implement meaningful virtual experiences for all large events, including recruitment, induction and other chapter operations," Thomas said via UNC Media Relations.
Some sorority houses have already begun to adapt their operating procedures to abide by social distancing recommendations, with events either being canceled or taking place virtually.
Pi Beta Phi President Chelsea Rowe said her sorority is relying on technology to ensure that proceedings can go ahead as planned.
“All of our events or gatherings as a group will take place virtually until we are able to safely gather in large groups again,” Rowe said.
Some, like Waugh, hope that this crisis will be an opportunity for the University to reevaluate its relationship with fraternities.
“Maybe because of this, the University can revisit those things, speak to the national chapters of those fraternities," Waugh said. "But I think that how fraternities operate and sororities operate when they’re off campus, and yet tied to school, could change for the better.”
The National Pan-Hellenic Council did not respond to a request for comment.