By Nickie Hayes
COVID-19 has left nothing unchanged on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus, and that includes Greek life.
Fraternities and sororities have had to go through massive changes to their normal semester itinerary, and have successfully done so, according to Allison Swick-Duttine, the director of fraternity and sorority life at SUNY Plattsburgh.
In trying to navigate through the changes due to COVID-19, the first place to start was observing the campus protocols. Swick-Duttine said the Greek life office is closed, and most of the meetings held are through zoom.
The office staff had to be cut down to only three student staff members,the rest are volunteers. In addition to the office being closed, the lounge provided in the office as a gathering place for fraternities and sororities, is now suspended from use, Swick-Duttine said.
During COVID-19, it also seems that money is a constant issue for most people, and the fraternities and sororities are trying their best to stay afloat. Swick-Duttine said there is funding from the state to help run programing and development for all fraternities and sororities as a part of SUNY Plattsburgh. However, the office has not been authorized to spend any money this year, so it is trying to figure out how to do things creatively, or they have to eliminate some things all together.
Colton Langtry, a senior in the communication sciences and disorders program, and the president of Theta Gamma, said five of their members did not come back up to campus this year. Because of this, there is more than $1,000 the fraternity is not going to make, and contributions that will not be made. However, money is not the only problem. Not having the five other members can affect their sense of brotherhood.
Ariana Milich, a sophomore and a childhood education major with a concentration in math, is a member of Alpha Phi. She said because Alpha Phi was not able to hold some events at the end of last semester due to it being cut short, they were able to receive some funding back from the organization.
Within each fraternity and sorority, members must pay dues every semester to the governance councils or the Inner Fraternity Council and the Inner Sorority Association. However, both of those councils have decided to reduce the cost of the dues to half price for this semester.
The fraternities and sororities themselves are holding most of their meetings via zoom, but some in person events are being held. However, any in person event has to be preapproved, and a faculty or staff adviser must be present throughout the duration of the event. Some of the SUNY Plattsburgh Greek life organizations held recruitment events in person, but they had to be on campus.
Milich said Alpha Phi has held three in person rush events, and they were divided into four groups. They also had a virtual rush event through zoom, and went into breakout rooms to make the event more personalized, so it would have been in person.
The off campus rental houses of the fraternities and sororities are still in use, with some of the members staying there. Swick-Duttine said they are leaving the decision on how to regulate visitors to the houses up to the students. She explained that some of the fraternities and sororities are taking this very seriously, and others may have a more lenient approach to ensuring safety.
Langtry and the rest of Theta Gamma have set up a regulation process when visitors come to the house. There is a table near the front of the house with hand sanitizer and masks. Additionally, all guests have to let them know they will be coming, sanitize their hands once they arrive, wear a mask, and sign in on their sign-in sheet to help with contact tracing. They set up rules so there can only be eight guests at a time total and only four can be in each room.
The members of Theta Gamma were extremely motivated. One of their alumni lost both of their parents to COVID-19, and that instilled a zero tolerance policy within their fraternity. Langtry said that it hit them hard, and really showed them the true importance of taking the necessary precautions. He said he wanted Theta Gamma to be the ones to set the standard.
Swick-Duttine also said she has had conversations with all of the fraternities and sororities that having a large gathering will draw negative attention to them, and that of course it is better to just not do that in general anyway during this time.
The Inner Fraternity Council, along with the Inner Sorority Association, have prohibited events with alcohol this semester. Swick-Duttine stated this includes some of the traditional mixers, and invites only events that the organizations typically hold during the semester.
Greek life at SUNY Plattsburgh usually holds brotherhood and sisterhood types of events with each other, but because of the large numbers in some of the fraternities and sororities, that is just not possible. However, they have found ways to divide the members into smaller groups and do events together that way.
Some of the larger sororities typically have bid day or acceptance day celebrations, which the national organizations have said are not allowed. The sororities instead had to come up with other alternatives to celebrating their new members, and make them feel welcome. For example, Milich said their bid day was a virtual event, but after the event, they were approved to take pictures with the new members in their acceptance day shirts.
In regards to safety of each of the members in the fraternity, sorority, or other students at SUNY Plattsburgh, Swick-Duttine said besides one incident there has not been any concerns of safety. She explained that there was going to be some hiccups here and there, but they are trying their best to do things better day by day.
“We have not gotten any other complaints, or any other reports of problems, Swick Duttine said. “So for the most part, the organizations are compiling, and are doing their best to make sure that they’re being safe.”
So far this semester, the fraternities and sororities have done a combined total of 2,300 hours of volunteer work at SUNY Plattsburgh and within the community. They have helped with the pool testing for COVID-19 every week and the registration for it, the flu-clinic, handing out masks on campus and there have been groups almost every weekend doing the adopt-a-highway program.
“There is a fraternity that is coaching youth’s soccer at the YMCA, and there is a sorority volunteering at a local church’s thrift shop,” Swick-Duttine said.
“That’s one thing that they’ve found that they can do in small groups, and still fulfill the mission of their organization.”
Langtry says that each member has raised about $240 per person toward philanthropy, each member has at least 10 hours of community service so far, and is still going strong. He also said he expects to finish number one for community service and philanthropy to get Chapter of Excellence.
He said they started off by handing out masks at the beginning of the semester, they then did the adopt-a-highway program. Some of the members also helped with COVID-19 testing, donated blood, and picked up trash and raked leaves with University Police. They have also raised $630 so far for the red cross disaster relief.
Milich explained that Alpha Phi is trying to do as much volunteer work as possible around campus, and the community. They are also in the process of planning to volunteer for the adopt a highway program and many other programs for later this semester.
She said Alpha Phi has weekly chapter meetings that help them to connect, catch up with the rest of the members, talk about volunteer work or anything else they might need to discuss. She said making time to see her pledge class and the weekly meetings has helped to make the semester better. Specifically, seeing her pledge class reminds her she is never alone, has friends that will always have her back and will be there for her.
“I think we’ve all been positive about it, and we’re all definitely here for each other,” Milich said. “Some girls didn’t come back this semester, but we reach out to them and are here to help.”
Langtry said he actually enjoyed this semester in the fraternity more than any other. They have done more community service than normal, and on the Facebook Plattsburgh fraternity and sorority page, they are posting constantly to keep alumni updated. He feels being in Theta Gamma has been much more rewarding this semester.
“I would say in hindsight, yeah, I think the adjustment has been pretty smooth, especially when you look at us in comparison to what you see happening on a lot of other campuses,” Swick-Duttine said.
She also explained that a lot of preparation had to happen over the summer to prepare the students in Greek life for all the changes they would be faced with. Within the preparation, they hired a recruitment consulting company to work with all of the organizations. They each got to have a consultation with an expert to learn how they were going to do their recruitment virtually.
From the beginning of the semester to now, Swick-Duttine believes that the fraternities and sororities have taken the new COVID-19 changes seriously. She already had high expectations for them and feels they are exceeding them, saying that many of them have become role models for other students.