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After three clusters and several Chapel Hill Police reports, eyes turn to Greek life

UNC's Pi Lambda Phi fraternity on Little Fraternity Court on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. That Saturday night, the fraternity allegedly hosted a party despite Governor Cooper's executive order about indoor gatherings of over 10 people and the CDC guidelines surrounding COVID-19.

The University reported three COVID-19 clusters within the span of one week in Greek organizations — fraternities Sigma Nu and Zeta Psi and sorority Alpha Delta Pi. 

Concerns about Greek life have circulated since UNC’s leadership announced the full reopening plan in May. And now that UNC is shutting down its residence halls, all eyes are on students who remain in off-campus housing — especially those in Greek organizations.

Plans for COVID-19 enforcement in Greek life 

As UNC planned its Carolina Roadmap, Greek life organizations also had to assemble plans to comply with county and University COVID-19 rules. 

Associate Vice Chancellor for Students Affairs Jonathan Sauls said at a Faculty Executive Committee meeting in July that the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, two of UNC’s four Greek life councils that have in-person recruitment each fall, had committed to virtual recruitment.

According to a July 30 statement from Ion Outterbridge, the director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, all fraternity and sorority houses were also required to submit a contingency plan for public health and safety to the Orange County Health Department by Aug. 1.

These contingency plans included written COVID-19 Safety Plans, which Greek houses had to provide to house staff. The OCHD also requested confirmation of screening logs, guest rosters and disinfection logs, as well as plans for isolation and quarantine, should a resident or guest of a Greek house test positive. 

Failure to comply would result in the closure of Greek facilities and loss of University recognition, according to the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

After moving all classes online, the University issued a letter to fraternities and sororities on Aug. 24, where they expressed frustration with “the apparent indifference and recklessness that some individuals and organizations have shown during the past two weeks.”

The University also said compliance with positive result disclosures and contact tracing was decreasing, and that they’d received reports of Greek chapters encouraging members to avoid testing to evade quarantine or isolation.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Bob Blouin said in an Aug. 26 letter to Mayor Pam Hemminger and the Town Council that UNC-affiliated organizations that violate COVID-19 ordinances could face sanctions ranging from “restrictions of use of campus facilities, to limiting access to university funds, to losing campus standing and recognition.”

Greek life incidents and response

Even before school began, members of UNC’s chapter of the sorority Chi Omega were caught on video violating mass gathering ordinances. 

A video posted online on Aug. 4 showed sorority members at an off-campus gathering without masks or physical distancing, garnering condemnation from students and community members.

The sorority worked through internal processes for accountability while in contact with the OCHD, according to a statement posted to the sorority's Instagram account. The Chi Omega chapter president did not respond to the DTH’s request for comment.

The day before the Chi Omega statement was posted to Instagram, the UNC Panhellenic Executive Council held a recruitment refresher for hundreds of UNC Panhellenic sorority members, according to a source on the Panhellenic Council who requested anonymity to protect her position. 

The source said one of UNC Panhellenic’s Executive Council members addressed community standards violations from sororities.

“She basically was like ‘Even if you’re doing bad stuff, like, don’t get caught — this is a PR nightmare,’” the source said.

The session was held on Youtube Live, the source said. The Panhellenic Executive members hosting the session could see the comments from sorority chapter members. Some asked what consequences were in place for chapters that violated guidelines, while others praised the response of the executive team.

Olivia Andrews, a junior and a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, said that she and other members of her sorority had been warned about going to parties.

“I've heard a lot of the same things from ZTA and from Panhel as a whole — everybody's kind of universally being like, 'Don't party, don’t go out to parties — it looks bad,” Andrews said.  “I can genuinely say that they care about us getting sick. They obviously don’t want any of us to be seen at any frat parties or anything, so that’s one thing. But then also, in general, they don’t want us to get sick.”

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Andrews said her sorority had adhered closely to COVID-19 guidelines. 

But when one of the members tested positive for COVID-19, all members living in the house had to quarantine. Then the national ZTA chapter informed them on Aug. 26 that their house was shutting down due to COVID-19, Andrews said.

“So that means we’re no longer going to be able to pick up meals because the house isn’t going to be functioning anymore,” she said. “All the girls who live in the house have to move out.”

Chapel Hill Police Department reports show that since Aug. 8, officers responded to four separate incidents at UNC fraternities — Beta Theta Pi and Zeta Psi on Aug. 8, and Phi Gamma and Phi Delta Theta on Aug. 20.

Officers arrested two UNC students at Phi Delta Theta for violations of state executive orders.

University Media Relations said they were unable to comment on ongoing administrative or disciplinary actions.

Eleven days after the police issued an incident report for loud music and a party at the fraternity, the University reported that Zeta Psi had developed a cluster of COVID-19 cases. The incubation time period for COVID-19 can range from 2 to 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

University enforcement measures

During discussions about off-campus community standards enforcement, University leaders said sorority and fraternity houses are privately owned, meaning the majority of enforcement falls to the CHPD.

Police Chief Chris Blue said the volume of party-related complaints received by the Police Department in the past month has been on par with years past.

Regardless of whether a violation occurs at a fraternity house or a student apartment complex, Blue said, the CHPD’s response is the same. If the reported activity is truly a violation of state or local guidelines, officers will attempt to educate those present and document the event. 

And this year, the University will receive information on every violation.

“If we come back to that location again, then we know that we’ve already provided education and warnings, and then the potential extends for us to take enforcement action if we choose to, and if we observe another violation,” Blue said. “But what is also important is we share that information with the University, so the University can consider any sanctions they may choose to take, administrative or academic sanctions.”

Blue said there were no repeat offenses as of Aug. 27.

Once violations reach the University, a representative from the Student Affairs team of Off-Campus Student Life will visit the students with a member of the CHPD.

A statement from UNC Media Relations said that during this visit, the Student Affairs representative will take down the names of the students involved. Students affiliated with a Greek chapter will then receive a follow-up from the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

The Interfraternity Council said in a statement to the DTH that it has consistently reminded its member organizations that COVID-19 violations will be reviewed by the IFC’s Judicial Board — which could result in sanctions such as monetary fines, social probation and recruitment restrictions. 

While the IFC cannot remove University recognition, it can place member fraternities under “poor standing” and present the standing to the OFSL and national chapters for further review.

Although many point to Greek Life as a veritable breeding ground for COVID-19, students like Andrews don’t think all of the blame should be pushed onto Greek organizations.

“Obviously, everybody has an individual responsibility to social distance, wear masks, things like that, but honestly, you also can’t bring a bunch of college students, especially the freshmen, specifically, and make them all live in dorms where they’re all packed together like sardines and expect COVID not to spread,” she said. “You could be doing all the right things and still get COVID.”

@seaynthia | @praveenavsoma