While Greeks are not immune to COVID, their love for their community is.
After the heartbreak of the spring semester when the pandemic began and when many of the larger Greek life events had to be cancelled, Greeks are learning to adjust to the restrictions to mitigate risks while finding innovative ways to give back.
“It was harder to get to know our new sisters that were part of the chapter, because we usually get that semester to go to formal to do those things but we couldn't,” said junior Timber Falin, president of Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA). “So, it not only impacted us money wise for our philanthropy, but it also impacted us socially and like strengthening those bonds among each other.”
The spring cancellations hurt the donation piggy banks of many of the chapters on campus, meaning they could donate only a portion of what they usually share.
“We didn't get to do [Lips for Literacy],” senior Jenna Gerth, a four-year member of Pi Beta Phi (Pi Phi) said. “And because of that, instead of being able to donate a couple thousand to the likes of literacy. This year we only get to donate 400 something. So, it's difficult.”
Recruitment, social and philanthropic events have all taken a hit during the pandemic, but members of the sororities and fraternities on campus have adapted and say they are trying to remain positive.
Many of the chapters’ fall recruitment events looked different this year. Instead of packed houses and suites the events were held virtually or outside in small socially distant groups.
Junior Maddie Bright, president of Pi Phi, said all three sororities had difficulty in the beginning figuring out how they were going to connect with potential new members, or PNMs, through screens.
“All three sororities really had to adapt and figure out how the ins and outs of how we were going to make it as impactful as possible,” Bright said.
Falin agreed, saying the virtual recruitment “was really an adjustment period...because we have never done recruitment that way.”
“We had to figure out how we could make recruitment still the personal and like special experience that it should be for the new girls, without it being in person,” Falin said.
Gerth and senior Jarret Caster, president of Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE), played a large part in planning recruitment events in cooperation with Taylor Dwyer, former assistant director of student involvement and Greek Life coordinator.
As the Panhellenic Vice President of Recruitment, Gerth was in charge of planning, setting up, and running the virtual three-day recruitment process.
Gerth said the experience was different than what she expected but she’s grateful for it all. Though she was frustrated whenever she finished planning everything for an in-person rush and two days later, plans had to be changed.
“I focused more on the side of the potential new members and making sure that their processes through recruitment and meeting each sorority and all of their members went smoothly,” Gerth said.
Caster, the Interfraternity Council Vice President of Recruitment, had the equivalent of Gerth’s role, for fraternity recruitment in the fall. He said that active members felt it was important to showcase what the experience of joining a fraternity had to offer, even during COVID.
“I really think all active members put an emphasis on making sure that we sold ourselves as an enjoyable experience even without, you know, all the social interactions that you typically get from a fraternity,” Caster said. “It was more so about building this place. So, it's more like displaying how [the experience] can build you up to be a better person- in college, as well as after college.”
Jarret Dodson, junior and newly initiated member of Phi Delta Theta (Phi Delt), said he thinks recruitment fared well because his chapter gained 12 new members.
“We were allowed to set up booths inside of the student center so we were able to attract some new recruits that way,” Dodson said. “We're able to talk in the cafeteria but in terms of, you know, hands on activities that fraternities and sororities are really well known for, you know, cornhole, meeting, stuff like that just wasn't possible.”
Senior Andrew Elixman, the president of Kappa Delta Rho (KDR), said he expected the turnout to be lower but it was better than expected.
“I think with us still being on campus, it ended up working out pretty well, and for whatever reason, every fraternity on this campus actually had a better recruitment season than in previous years,” Elixman said.
Philanthropic promises kept
As far as adaptations for philanthropic events go, Falin said that the biggest changes chapters are making includes planning how to hold events safely.
Before ZTA’s largest event of the academic year, Big Man on Campus, the sorority women made sure to spread the word even more than usual via social media and by posting graphics throughout campus.
Big Man on Campus’ setup looked a little different this year. The contestants filmed videos of their interview and talent portions by themselves or with their coaches, before the videos were combined and posted, so that people could vote online.
Falin said ZTA was pleasantly surprised when their virtual Big Man on Campus event was able to still raise $8,000 because they usually raise a little over $10,000 in-person. She said it goes to show how hard the girls worked to get the word out.
“It's definitely impacted our philanthropic donations because it's harder to get people to want to do it whenever it's online or not in person,” Falin said. “So, we’ve definitely taken a hit there.”
Virtual and ongoing ways to donate have shown mixed results, though.
KDR is using a continuously open portal to donate to their philanthropy, the B+ Foundation, which gives financial aid to families of kids with cancer. They also hosted a virtual Veterans Day trivia night Nov. 11.
Elixman said the turnout for the event was not the best, but he’s happy they were still able to do something.
“COVID has definitely had a negative impact on [service and philanthropy events], but they're still possible,” Elixman said. “It's just limited.”
One of Delta Delta Delta (Tri Delt)'s more well-known events, Sincerely Yours, was also impacted by novel coronavirus. Instead of writing their usual letters and mailing them out, the sorority women collected emails and wrote messages asking for donations to St. Jude.
Carly Morris, Tri Delt’s vice president of administration, said it was harder to get donations this year as not everyone checks their email or thinks an email is as personal as a letter or postcard.
The ZTA women had to get crafty for their Think Pink week in the fall. They made face masks promoting their philanthropy to sell during their tablings as well as purchasing individually packaged cookies to limit the risk of contamination. Tri Delt women took to the kitchen and baked cupcakes for a sale in the student center in late October.
Phi Delta Theta (Phi Delt) was able to host a bake sale as well. On election day, they sold themed cookies, cake pops, and cupcakes to raise money in the atrium of the student center.
During their Think Pink week, ZTA partnered with downtown Franklin business, Benjamin’s Cafe, so that anyone who visited and purchased from them could donate a portion of their purchase to their philanthropy. TKE partnered with Benjamin’s Cafe on Nov. 30 so that if you showed the flyer, 20% of all food and drink costs would be donated to their philanthropy.
Pi Phi was able to hold their annual Color Run on Oct. 18, along with a Lemonade for Literacy event and a Day of the Dead altar in partnership with KDR. Out of these events the color run had to undergo the most changes seeing as no one except for the campus community was allowed to participate.
“Thankfully, our chapter has found ways to make philanthropy and social events possible while still following the Fortify Franklin guidelines,” Bright said.
Social interaction amongst brothers and sisters has also been affected by the likes of COVID, considering face-to-face meetings are really mask-to-mask with at least six-feet distance between people, and many events are virtual.
“We haven’t all been able to sit down together in the suite for meetings since the beginning of spring semester last year,” Bright said. “Therefore, our new members have never experienced an actual meeting before.”
Falin said the sense of belonging that members usually feel after being initiated is taking more time to develop this year.
“The new girls that we got this recruitment have really been struggling, you know, trying to feel like a sense of belonging,” Falin said. “And that's probably been one of the biggest challenges is trying to tell them ‘Hang in there, it'll get better. We promise like this, hopefully it's just temporary.’ But we've been trying to do a lot more zoom things that people can go to.”
Caster said he wishes new brothers were able to have the entire experience and participate in chapter traditions, “but at least it's kind of nice to be able to walk through the hallways and see brothers.”
“It's really cool when we can all get together as a chapter; stuff that's been done in our chapter since 1988,” Caster said. “Our new guys are kind of getting like the Kroger brand version of that.”
A few of the chapters, like KDR and Tri Delt, appreciated being able to have a few socially distanced or hybrid meetings early on in the semester.
“We were able to meet in person for most of the meetings this semester, because we found a large enough space that we could socially distance and just wear masks,” Elixman said. “But the past few weeks we've just pretty much been virtual there too so it's been really hard for us to do our normal activities.”
Keep on carrying on
As senior, Gerth, Caster and Elixman want to stress the importance of not taking anything for granted and continuing to work hard.
Elixman says his only advice is to keep your spirits up and try to stay motivated.
“Fatigue can set in very quickly, so it's important to keep trying and motivate others,” Elixman said.
“Keep going,” Caster said. “We have done really well [during COVID] just dealing with all of the stipulations.”
Gerth said COVID has definitely had a large impact on her Greek life experience because she just finished her last semester and Pi Phi meeting online.
“It's hard not being able to see your sisters in person weekly,” Gerth said. “Don't take that for granted. I definitely did.”
Caster and Gerth are looking forward to seeing how the chapters and members grow and adapt while creating their own memories.
“I'm gonna be very sad to see [some traditions] go but that happens it's just the changing of the tide,” Gerth said. “You guys will come up with new traditions to start on, things to sing, to celebrate. It'll just be a nice thing to see, when it's all over what stays and what changes.”
“The number one thing I'm looking forward to, you know, [is] coming back to Franklin [with] company, and seeing that [the] chapter is going strong,” Caster said. “They’re some really good guys. Hopefully, this COVID thing doesn't take [too many things] away from these [freshman] guys as active members as well as like other seniors coming back years later.”
Gerth said that Greek life will endure and members will continue to carry on spreading the message of their philanthropy and creating lifelong friendships.
“It's hard but our Greek life is strong,” Gerth said. “COVID won't destroy us, we are a small campus. But COVID won't take us down. I believe that 100%. If anything, it's definitely made us stronger.”