Greek life adjusts to new reality, finds ways to stay connected

Emma Iacovella, sophomore in music education, starts her outline for a reflection at her desk in her room in Alpha Gamma Delta sorority. (Paige Eichkorn | Collegian Media Group)

With opportunities being taken by COVID-19, sororities and fraternities had to rethink everything they planned for the semester.

Brooke Montgomery, junior in entrepreneurship and the Panhellenic Council president at Kansas State, said the Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council had to get creative to keep members engaged and motivated.

“A lot of members are checking out this semester,” Interfraternity Council president and junior in marketing Sam Keener, said. “I really don’t blame them in terms that this is just a rough semester and it is hard to be motivated.”

Montgomery said she’s been telling chapters that none of the things they’re doing right now are time-sensitive.

“During this time, you never really know how your chapter members are feeling,” Montgomery said.

Sororities and fraternities often partake in philanthropic events and fundraising through the school year. Fundraising during a pandemic is no different for them.

Montgomery said sororities raised approximately $130,000 from all their philanthropies combined in 2019. Without this large sum of money, those organizations would significantly suffer.

Philanthropy vice president of Alpha Xi Delta and junior in feed science Neeley Bowden said her chapter continued raising money online for Autism Speaks.

“We actually went a lot over our goal for the year,” Bowden said. “I didn’t expect to hit it, considering the circumstances.”

Bowden said Alpha Xi Delta has raised over $40,000, surpassing their goal of $36,000.

“We’re pretty lucky to have the capacity to still raise money through social media and online,” Montgomery said.

Dawson Wagner, president of Delta Sigma Phi and junior in mass communications. said his chapter turned to a more local philanthropy during this unknowing time.

“We are raising money for K-State Strong to support students’ needs for scholarships or any other sort of funding,” Wagner said.

Wagner said, like many other chapters, their big fundraiser for the spring semester was cancelled due to COVID-19.

The Kappa Delta chapter chose to take this time to raise awareness for the Manhattan Crisis Center.

“We mostly wanted to raise awareness because children at home are more susceptible to abuse or neglect,” president of Kappa Delta and senior in human development and family sciences Maria Grimes said. “We did provide a link if people were able to donate.”

In addition, a closed campus and social distancing guidelines meant sorority and fraternity members needed to relocate.

“All of our in-house girls got prorated rates for rent and dinners,” Grimes said. “We kept some payments for our house to stay open, to pay our house mom and to pay our chef to make sure they were taken care of during this time as well.”

Grimes said herself and her council relocated money to pay for postage or honor their graduating seniors.

While some houses are still adjusting to the change, things looked different the whole semester for Delta Sigma Phi. Wagner said their chapter house was under renovation during the spring semester. Therefore, their dues were already lower.

“Thankfully we were able to refund $100 to $150 per member from the semester to be able to help them out,” Wagner said.

Some chapters are unable to refund members as they must continue to pay chefs, Keener said.

“In the end, fraternities are non-profit organizations,” Keener said. “They’re not trying to steal money from their members. They’re trying to make sure they pay the organizations they promised they would pay at the beginning of the semester.”

Some chapters have feared they may have a significant loss of members through the long break.

“Usually we see people want to resign in the summer because there is a lack of connection,” Grimes said.

In order to keep that connection, chapters have been scheduling online events.

“There’s one alumnus that has set up routine calls that he oversees,” Wagner said. “Undergrad and alumni can get on and share stories, reminisce on the good old times and share how they’re dealing with this pandemic.”

Wagner said alumnus from the 1990s and 1980s have attended and it has been a good morale booster.

Sororities have become well-equipped if they do see a decrease in retention.

“Even with less retention or less members coming through recruitment in the fall, all of our chapters on-campus have been really great with working together to come up with some plans if those numbers do fall,” Montgomery said.

Greek life also realizes that COVID-19 will be an on-going problem.

Once K-State announces classes will be in-person again, Wagner said his chapter will take all necessary precautions, including sanitization devices, guest lists, a halt in buffet style dinner and increased awareness of members’ health.

“Even though we’re going to have a brand-new facility, we’re going to have to make sure it’s sanitized and properly taken care of,” Wagner said.

Grimes said once her chapter is back together, she can see the semester going one of two ways.

“Either it will be hard to get back in the swing of things and participation might be low,” Grimes said. “Or people missed one another so much that they can’t wait to be back and realized that they might have been taking some opportunities for granted.”

Grimes said she hopes for the latter.

While chapters are constantly planning for the future, Grimes recognizes the need to shed light on the present, as well.

“Ultimately we are students first,” Grimes said. “Whatever it takes for our members to be successful in their online classes, we want to be a part of that.”

Grimes said she wants her members to know Kappa Delta is there for them, but she does not want it to be a burden or take away from their experience at home.

Keener is hopeful for the future of Greek life and the opportunities ahead.

“I am excited to see how we will bounce back from this semester,” Keener said.