Forecasted hazardous weather and an ever-changing COVID-19 situation led to several changes to Miami University’s formal recruitment process for fraternities and sororities.
Kimberly Vance, director of the Center for Student Engagement, Activities and Leadership (SEAL), which houses the Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said the original plan for recruitment had been in development for almost a year and took into account current and projected COVID-19 restrictions.
“At the time that we started planning for this recruitment, we were anticipating that we might have the ability to be together sometimes but probably not all of the time in person,” Vance said. “So we made the call quite early that the first weekend of recruitment for the Panhellenic sororities would be virtual.”
Although the first weekend round was planned to be virtual, potential new members (PNMs) were allowed to gather with their recruitment team leaders — Rho Gammas — in small groups of 50 to 60 for a portion of the events.
The second weekend of recruitment was scheduled to be held in-person. But Vance’s team transitioned the sisterhood round, where PNMs learn about sororities’ values and sisterly bonds, to an online format due to forecasts of snow, announcing the change on Feb. 1. Preference round, the final step before receiving a bid, remained in-person.
“Our primary focus is how we can keep people safe,” Vance said. “It was better to make the decision and let people prepare [for the weather].”
The announcement from the SEAL came a day before the university closed campus and canceled classes for Feb. 3 and two days before the campus closure for Feb. 4 was announced.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I was relieved when campus was closed because it gave credence to what we did,” Vance said.
She said the benefits of facilitating virtual recruitment last year, including familiarity with software and practice with modifying timing, helped when it came to quickly changing the plan for this year.
“What we learned last year is we can flip this around to virtual,” Vance said. “We have the platform and the experience to do that.”
Audrey Smith, a junior interior design major and PR chair for Phi Sigma Sigma sorority, echoed Vance’s views on the benefit of previous virtual events.
“We had past experience that did make it easier,” Smith said. “Last year we had a lot of trial and error; this year we kind of made up for it.”
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Smith highlighted some other positive aspects of holding some rounds of recruitment online.
“It’s a good experience of being online because you feel like you’re not judged the first minute you walk in that door … it’s more about your personality,” Smith said.
However, Smith acknowledged some of the logistical drawbacks of virtual programming, explaining some might have issues with Wi-Fi, noise or software problems.
“It’s a lot easier to be in person talking to that person versus looking at a screen,” Smith said.
Mia Stockle, a first-year inclusive special education major participating in formal recruitment, spoke to the intermittent issues.
“I think the biggest negative about being on Zoom was just the technical issues,” Stockle said. “A lot of the time some of the Zoom links wouldn’t work or people ended up getting kicked out [of the meeting] or there was bad Wi-Fi.”
Despite some frustrations with the change to the online format and related issues, Stockle said the event was worth the occasional frustration.
“I feel like I’m completely fine and everything worked out,” Stockle said. “So either way, whether it was over Zoom or in person, I feel like I would have ended up exactly where I am right now.”
Inclement weather hasn’t been the only obstacle to the plans for formal recruitment. Complications due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis led to unexpected changes.
“We had planned to have Panhellenic bid day back in Millett Hall … We were all set for that,” Vance said. “But the MAC changed a basketball game schedule, down-the-line COVID kind of things, because they had to reschedule something that had been canceled before. And so, we lost our reservation to Millett Hall.”
Bid Day events were moved to Cook Field and later moved to classrooms in Pearson Hall due to inclement weather.
Vance also said her team was prepared to deal with any possible new cases of COVID-19 that caused people to be quarantined during some or all of the recruitment process.
“Even the stuff that we are planning to do in-person has a backup plan both for the chapter members and potential new members,” Vance said. “If someone is in isolation or quarantine … they [will] be able to participate through all of it virtually.”
Despite all the changes and complications, the Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity and Sorority life is expecting similar recruitment numbers to years past.
“It looks like where we’re at right now … we are going to be back to 2020 numbers,” Vance said.
She said she is grateful for the staff and Greek life leadership for their flexibility.
“I really appreciate the university community as a whole,” Vance said, “and their willingness to work with us to try to provide in-person events and activities while still being considerate of the fact that we’re in the middle of … a pandemic and a snowstorm.”