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Rethinking Greek life: WU sororities on COVID-19 and white supremacy

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Sanja Zelen

Staff writer

the front of the pi beta phi house at willamette
Pi Beta Phi house, which will no longer house Pi Beta Phi next semester. Photo by Rebecca May.

Sororities have been adapting to many changes in Willamette policies this semester. From extra hygiene practices being implemented in houses and Zoom bonding to encouraging conversations on Greek life and race, sorority presidents from Pi Beta Phi, Alpha Chi Omega and Alpha Phi shared their plans to keep their sorority safe and connected throughout the rest of the semester.

President of Pi Beta Phi Maddy Kaplan said that there are nine members living in the sorority house this semester. Each house is required to follow the same university protocols that are enforced in campus dorms. In the Pi Beta Phi house, everyone has their own room, as opposed to having beds placed in the same area. All food is made to-go by the chef and all spaces are sanitized before and after being used by members. Members who travel outside of Salem are encouraged to quarantine or eat in their room for a short period of time if they decide to get tested, although testing is optional.

Kaplan said how the sorority has been staying social: “A lot of events have been on Zoom. A big part of being in a sorority is the community.”

Pi Beta Phi will be leaving their Chapter House at the end of the semester for financial reasons, but there are still several ways for students to get involved now, according to Kaplan. “We had our initiation at the beginning of the semester and we’re doing Halloween movies every Friday night on our patio.” She said that spring initiation will be on Zoom. “If people want more information, our Instagram lives are every other Friday night. They’re each themed and a really good way to get some information about the chapters.”

President of Alpha Chi Omega Perrin Crespi-Funderburk said that Alpha Chi Omega’s house is following similar protocols. Temperature checks are required on a daily to weekly basis. If a student were to get COVID-19, they would be transfered to university housing, possibly the former Delta Gamma house next door, Crespi-Funderburk said. Students in the house are allowed to socialize unmasked in rooms with another house member if they choose to, but must wear a mask in common areas.

There are 14 members living in the house this semester, each with their own individual room. Crespi-Funderburk said: “Two members are living out of the house because they felt more safe. We still do Zoom chapters and meetings with everyone.”

the outside of the alpha chi omega house at willamette
Outside the Alpha Chi Omega house. Photo by Rebecca May.

Unlike Pi Beta Phi, meals have not been served in the Alpha Chi Omega house. The house no longer has a chef and the commercial kitchen is closed due to Covid-19 precautions.

Crespi-Funderburk explained: “We’re eating at Goudy. We get to-go boxes and eat in the [house] dining room or at Goudy.”

Crespi-Funderburk said that while most events have been cancelled, there are still ways for female-identifying students to participate in events and fundraisers: “Our big event is Acapella night, which can’t happen because it isn’t safe to host it in the auditorium. We’re hoping to push it back to spring.” She said that there is a chance that the sorority will provide contactless ways of donating to the Center for Hope and Safety instead.

Crespi-Funderburk said that her goal is to create a safe space for members: “We’re trying to focus inwards on our community and make sure that everyone feels really safe and supported this semester. It has been a really hard semester for people, with the fires and pandemic and having that fear of getting sick, and [attending] online classes.”

Students interested in getting involved with Alpha Chi Omega can contact Crespi-Funderburk for information on the sorority’s online recruitment process, Instagram lives and online tours.

President of Alpha Phi Isabelle Maxwell spoke on how membership in the sorority has changed and what her goals are for their semester. She explained that retention, the amount of members that remained in Alpha Phi, increased from March through August: “I think part of that is because people are really looking to maintain the opportunity to be part of a community when they're feeling so distanced and when some of them aren't on campus.”

Alpha Phi does not have a house. They have recruited two members virtually this semester and are planning for an entirely virtual recruitment process this January. Instagram lives hosted twice a week by Alpha Phi allow students to learn more about the sorority.

All Alpha Phi bonding events, such as activities and games, have been moved online to guarantee the safety of members and include members who are not living in Salem this semester.

Maxwell said that COVID-19 policy is not the only conversation that Alpha Phi is having this semester. Politics has influenced conversations in sororities at Willamette. Maxwell emphasized the importance of having these conversations, speaking on how politics and the Civil Rights movement have influenced sorority discourse and policy.

“These past six months opened our eyes to the origins of Greek life and why it's problematic. So we had to take a hard look at how we can reform ourselves to justify being part of such an organization. We dedicate a portion of the chapter to educating ourselves and thinking hard about how we can make ourselves more inclusive, whether that is [through] removing barriers or changing language,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell spoke on the history of Greek life: “Over the nation a lot of chapters are choosing to resign because they can't morally justify being in an organization that is rooted in white supremacy. We've taken a good hard look at ways that sororities kind of perpetuate the cycle of being exclusive and not being inclusive towards especially racial minorities, so my sorority in particular decided to drop our legacy policy which preferences members whose mothers or grandmothers had the opportunity and financial means to go to college, but also had the opportunity and financial means to be in Greek life, which is a tremendous amount of privilege.”

Alpha Phi’s overall goal is to ensure that an inclusive, safe sorority community is fostered. According to Maxwell, having virtual conversations will help achieve and reshape the sorority’s goals and representation.

Pi Beta Phi, Alpha Chi Omega and Alpha Phi are providing multiple ways for students to learn more about their sororities. Instagram lives and online recruitment are being used to keep Greek life communities together. Conversations about COVID and Greek life history are being prioritized to reinforce safety and inclusivity in these communities. Female-identifying students interested in joining a sorority can contact any of these presidents or search “list of student organizations” on the Willamette webpage to get in contact with other presidents.

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