In the Spring of 2020, the University of Mississippi students were enjoying spring break when they received an email saying there would be an extra week of spring break. Students rejoiced and thought that it was just an extra long vacation. However, an extra week turned into months and students did not come back to campus until the next school year. Seniors graduated, despite not having a physical graduation, and a new mirage of excited freshmen came on campus. Most classes were done through Zoom and Blackboard. The usually packed campus was a ghost town and the once stressful tasks of finding a parking spot became no problem at all. Saturdays were no longer tailgating in the Grove and football games were at half capacity. Everything that was considered normal to the Ole Miss culture was changed and this included Greek life. With over 6,000 students in Greek life, it is a large part of the school. Rush is a week long event that boys and girls prepare months for. Typically, potential new members will visit each Greek house to meet with the current members but this year, it was all virtual. The impact that COVID 19 had on colleges across the United States was deeply felt in the Greek community.
Per the University’s COVID guidelines, all Greek chapters are not allowed to host any socials on or off campus. Socials are a large part of how a chapter gets to know each other and other chapters as well. Barrie Wright, a member of Alpha Delta Pi, said, “I met most of my friends from going to date parties or sisterhood events. I met a couple of the new incoming pledge class through Zoom but that is not the same thing as talking to someone in person”. She is not the only person feeling this way. As I talked to other Greek life members, I realized that the disconnect of not having in person events has made some concerned about the relationships going forward. Bid day is the last day of rush when the incoming pledge classes go join their new sorority or fraternity. Typically for sororities, the girls will run from the Grove to their houses and are greeted by the current members with signs, glitter, music, food, and more. The party continues to an off campus site where members of old and new pledge classes get to know each other. Due to COVID restrictions, all of this was done through Zoom. The story with fraternities was a little different.
Multiple Ole Miss fraternities were caught breaking COVID regulations on bid day. In an article produced by The Daily Mississippian, photos showed members of different fraternities posing in pictures. Despite masks being required by state law, a photo of Sigma Pi members showed “close to 50 members packed in front of the Sigma Pi house, but only 10 are seen wearing masks” (The Daily Mississippian). This was not the first time that the fraternities had broken social distancing and mask mandates. Pre-rush recruitment parties “were connected with clusters in Lafayette County” (The Daily Mississippian). I talked to a member of Sigma Pi who wished to remain anonymous. He told me that “the fraternity realized its mistakes and was going to be better”. While some of the fraternities apologized for their actions, the Greek community still felt anger about it. Lauren Voss, a member of Alpha Omicron Pi, said, “stuff like that brings bad light to the already struggling Greek life image. A lot of people already blame college kids for the rise in cases and when pictures of fraternities partying like nothing is wrong go around, it just makes everything worse.” At the time when The Daily Mississippian article was released, three sorority houses, Delta Delta Delta, Alpha Phi, and Kappa Kappa Gamma, had issued a two-week quarantine due to outbreaks in the houses. Wright lives in the Alpha Delta Pi house and was concerned for her own safety due to pre-existing health problems. When she tested positive for coronavirus, she told me, “I had to leave the house and ended up staying in the hospital for four nights. I’m lucky my mom lives in Oxford and I had a place to quarantine. I had to get another test before being allowed to go back into the ADPI house.” Others are not as lucky as Wright and have to quarantine in the Inn or in a sanctioned quarantine dorm.
While active cases in Oxford have died down, it is not easy to ignore the number of already confirmed cases. As of October 13th, there have been 793 confirmed cases. The way of life for the Ole Miss students is still locked down by COVID. Members of the Greek community continue to not have social events or in-person chapters. The frustration builds as seniors are not getting their last hoorahs. As members such as Voss and Wright continue to not know what is next for their Greek experience, the question of “what am I paying for” looms ahead. Unfortunately for now, this is the new way of Greek life. A sisterhood or brotherhood built through masks and Zoom.