For more than 6,000 students at South Florida universities, fraternities and sororities mean friends, parties and being a part of a community.
Or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
But the coronavirus pandemic has made the usual fall mixers and recruiting events all but impossible.
Still, members of the Greek system in South Florida have been having events virtually, mailing out T-shirts, raising money for charity, and have even gathered members to attend Black Lives Matter protests.
At FIU, there are two options: virtual events or none at all. One multicultural sorority chapter, the Phi Gamma chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma, is not letting that stop them, and has held numerous events since the summer.
“We halted everything we did in the spring semester and… did multiple events in the summer, like informationals, socials, and events to get closer to the FIU community as a whole,” said chapter Vice President Jade Acevedo.
One of those events was hosting a fundraiser and attending the Black Lives Matter protest held at FIU in June after the murder of George Floyd in collaboration with the two students that hosted it.
“We raised $600 for supplies for Miami Dream Defenders and one of our no longer active chapter sisters is a registered nurse, so she provided medical attention for anyone suffering with heat stroke or any injuries when the police showed up,” said chapter President Brea Jones.
As for the University of Miami the rules are more lenient, with limited-capacity in-person events allowed outside according to Sofia Hamilton, the student chair for the Association of Greek Letter Organizations.
Both Nova Southeastern University and Florida Atlantic University also restrict events to 10 people, require attendees to be socially distanced and wear masks.
Two chapters from Nova, the Xi Zeta chapter of the Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority, a Unified Greek sorority, and Pi Phi chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, a historically Black fraternity, have had different experiences with this mostly online hybrid model of events.
“With our events, we have been wanting to plan a good mix of in-person and virtual events to make sure we are engaging with the student population. For example, we held a self-care fundraiser, giving pre-packaged items with a pre-order type system so people can come to pick them up. 20 people came out and it helped us raise money for our chapter,” said Celine Loh, the sorority’s vice president.
Loh found the virtual experience to be mostly positive, saying that “it gave us a different perspective to how events should be conducted in the future… With that, we are able to enhance our engagement where it is more personalized now instead of having to be a large-scale event at a specific time and place.”
However, the Pi Phi chapter can’t say the same due to the uniqueness of their fraternity and the events they are known for, which includes strolling, a type of synchronized dance similar to stepping, performances, something that cannot be transitioned virtually.
“Even though that’s not all we do, those performances are a part of our history and have a meaning behind it. Those shows are also how we garner interest and showcase us and what we do. We feel the difference much more than other fraternities and sororities who don’t do them,” said Naby Exceus, the fraternity’s leader.
At FAU, according to Elaine Jodat, the associate director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, most Greek councils have maintained the virtual format even using money saved from canceling spring events to mail out items to the students.
“Before this virtual format, we were very limited in resources, but now the possibilities are endless and our reach is way more than we ever thought it would be,” said Jodat.