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Miami Greek Life takes on digital sisterhood and brotherhood

The usually full social calendars for the members of the Miami Greek community are virtually empty with pandemic safety precautions limiting gatherings of more than 10 people. 

With coronavirus continually changing our social world as we know it, Miami Greeks are trying to find as much normalcy as they can during these unprecedented times. Instead of the normal mass gatherings for chapter, weekly chapter meetings are now conducted virtually through a screen. 

Drew Davis, assistant director of business operations in the Cliff Alexander Office of Greek Life, said the office is doing its best to enforce university, local and federal policies in Miami’s fraternities and sororities. 

“We’re in regular contact with the presidents of the chapters either once a week or every other week,” Davis said. “[We are] helping to guide them through the uncertain times.”

Carly Schweitzer, chapter president of Gamma Phi Beta (Gamma Phi), said her sorority has virtual chapter every Sunday, and their sisterhood committee works on creating their agenda. 

Gamma Phi’s Zoom meetings consist of sorority announcements, a question of the week and breakout rooms for the members to discuss the question and meet other members. Virtual activities like a baking class, Zumba, trivia and more are also sisterhood events hosted online. 

“It’s been hard to come up with creative ideas to get people to want to be involved,” Schweitzer said. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh another Zoom link,’ but we’re trying to create it in a way that people are excited about the Zoom link and they look forward to it. We’re trying to use this as an opportunity to support one another through our community that we have.”

Gamma Phi had to cut its entire social event budget for this year, which reduced its sorority dues by 50%. Schweitzer said they’re still hosting a philanthropy event this year in the form of  a virtual 5k. 

Alex Orr, president of Beta Theta Pi (Beta), said he and his executive team had to go through a lot of preparation work to make sure the Beta house was up to code.

“We [had to] think about some items such as cleaning and sanitation protocols, adjusting our food service and the way we go about that and also making sure we had a quarantine protocol set in place,” Orr said. 

Beta ended up hiring new staff members to help with safer food service.

Ally Barkowski, a junior and member of Chi Omega, said she’s been staying in contact with her “little” in order to make the most of the newer members not getting the normal experience. 

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“I’m pretty close with my little, which is really good,” Barkowski said. “I think it could be harder for girls that weren’t as close [with their “bigs”] before the semester got cut short in March, but I’ve been really fortunate with my family.”

Barkowski also said her dues were significantly reduced this year because Chi Omega cut most of its social budget. 

“We’re obviously missing out on the social aspect of it, which is hard,” Barkowski said. “Not just getting together and having themed parties, but actually seeing our sisters.”

Orr said the decision to bring the fraternity members to the Beta house involved keeping a broader perspective in mind.

“The benefits of going to college obviously [surround] going to school, making sure you get a good education,” Orr said. “A lot of [them] too, especially related to being in Beta, is about growing relationships with other people and developing yourself while at school.”

Some of Beta’s members chose not to move back into the house but are still involved in virtual chapter. Normally, the house has an occupancy of 51, but there are only 44 members in the house currently. 

Before the semester began, Miami’s InterFraternity Council required all of Miami’s fraternities to write out a coronavirus plan and submit it to the council.

Miami’s Greek Life Tri-Council, consisting of the InterFraternity Council, Panhellenic Association and National Pan-Hellenic Council, issued a 10-day shelter-in-place on Aug. 29, urging all members to only leave their residence for necessary trips. This order came after a surge in positive coronavirus cases among students.

Davis said he’s concerned about the continuous rise in cases in Oxford but adds this is not an explicitly Greek concern.

“It is our hope that the Greek community, with the new expectations from the Tri-Council, can set the tone and be the leaders within the community to help reduce the spread,” Davis said. 

Looking ahead, Schweitzer said it’s nice that sorority rush doesn’t happen until the spring so that other schools can try it first, but notes she has no idea what it will look like. 

“It’s been hard to transition from all in-person to all online,” Schweitzer said. “We’re really trying to force [the members] to interact and meet one another because it's so difficult for them. It’s hard just to reach out to someone they only kind of know. We’re just trying to help them build their relationships.”