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A Look Back: How Has COVID-19 Impacted Fraternal Organizations?

Lori Hart, PhD
Lori Hart, PhD
Director of Educational Initiatives

My husband owns a decontamination company and has a contract with the State Department. Based on his closed doors and ongoing time away from home in early January 2020, I knew COVID-19 was going to impact the United States — and I didn’t have access to any classified information, I can assure you.

At one point in January 2020, I emailed some members in the Holmes Murphy office and suggested we have a meeting. We didn’t and, in all fairness, I am very unsure what we would have talked about. COVID-19 was something we learned about as we went along, and at some level, we still are learning.

In the United States, we came to what felt like a screeching halt in March 2020 when the World Health Organization declared the novel (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic.

Higher Education was one of the first sectors to feel the impact. Students were told to go “home” as in-person learning moved to virtual. Universities made clear statements to student organizations that “registered events” were no longer allowed. Some assumed that meant students would no longer gather together.

During this time, the Holmes Murphy Fraternal Practice received a lot of inquiries from our clients. The consistent theme was a request for a rebate or reduction in fees. The assumption was everyone was gone, claims will go away, and I remember thinking, “But will they? Will the students go away? Will behavior change? Will claims go down? Would a pandemic minimize risk?”

Many fraternity and sorority members had leases, and I was very unsure if everyone would pack up and leave. Now that we have data, here are three insights on how sororities and fraternities reacted to the pandemic.

Claims Remained Consistent

We have no accurate data regarding if students left or remained in university communities or within fraternity/sorority facilities; however, headlines indicated a lot of students remained in the communities.

Also, our insurance claims point to the fact that business went on as usual. Maybe there weren’t “registered” or “official” events, but our claims reveal that students were gathering and risks continued.

During the 2020-2021 school year, there were 116 reported claims that can potentially lead to litigation. The number and types of claims are consistent from previous years. The reasons for the claims were also consistent — sexual assault, hazing, assault and battery, and fall from heights. Alcohol is always the undercurrent of our claims. In fact, 90-95 percent of claims involve alcohol.

Advisors and Volunteers Matter

Holmes Murphy also saw an increase in property and water loss claims. A high percentage of these were preventable.

In thinking through the “why,” I have to believe part of this increase was because our volunteers stayed home (as they should have). We no longer had advisors attending weekly meetings, or House Corporations doing walk throughs. And this says to me, we NEED volunteers. They provide stability, and they see problems before they’re claims.

So, when it’s safe, I hope to see the volunteers back attending meetings, in the facilities, and helping chapters grow.

Complex Problems Usually Have Simple Solutions

I have spent decades working with college students on the complex problems and the simple solutions that often are right in front of us.

COVID-19 is a complex public health issue with simple solutions that has become quite divisive in this country.

Get vaccinated. Wear a mask. Quarantine if you are exposed. Socially distance. My hope is we can all — in a non-divisive way — set up environments that promote these things without judgment or attacking one another.

What are your thoughts on all of this? Are you seeing these same things happen within your own fraternal communities? I’d love to hear from you. Simply reach out!

And, don’t forget, we have a COVID-19 Resource site specific to fraternities and sororities and the issues you may be dealing with.

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