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COVID-19, Colleges & Fall Openings – Those Who Are Trying

Bobbi Larsen
Bobbi Larsen
Education Consultant

Can we focus on the good? The people working hard. The organizations working hard. There are people, students, faculty members, and fraternity/sorority leaders who are doing the right thing and trying to preserve a college experience for their campus communities.

Instead of focusing on the places where students, administrators, and faculty are struggling, we’d like to thank those who are trying…who are doing the right thing to keep their communities safe!

Organizations Setting Great Examples During COVID-19

Here are some perfect examples of organizations doing awesome work during this pandemic.

Colgate University

Take Colgate University President Brian Casey. Last month, Colgate welcomed students back from 35 different states. Students were tested and required by New York State policy to quarantine for a minimum of two weeks. In solidarity with those students, President Casey himself quarantined in a residence the entire time — a total of 17 days.

In his words, “So now we’re saying we can only do this if we all do this together, and the benefits will be remarkable.”

Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity

Or, how about Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity at Emporia State University? A member recently tested positive for COVID-19 after going to work. He was sent home for self-quarantine, and Emporia State was contacted. Other fraternity members then adhered to directions to self-quarantine.

University administrators are praising the group for how it’s handling the situation. Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Heine says members have been a model for “doing it the right way” when it comes to the COVID-19 response, including the self-quarantine, ongoing conversations with the institution and local health department, and future plans to bring in an outside cleaning firm to do a deep cleaning of the house.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. was planning to celebrate its Centennial in June with a gathering of 10,000, celebrating 100 years of sisterhood with meetings, educational sessions, and entertainment from artists like Mary J. Blige. COVID-19 caused them to pivot, not only in terms of the Centennial Convention, but in the way they recruit and initiate members, collect fees, legislate, and charter new chapters.

In the words of International President Valerie Hollingsworth Baker, “We weren’t going to let COVID stop us.”

Over 10 weeks from April to June, more than 350 members participated in virtual inductions carried out by international officers — inductions that would have been conducted in person by local leadership. Zeta hosted a virtual chapter charter in Ghana that included over 2,000 Zoom participants. Virtual intake processes and graduation ceremonies are allowing this sorority to engage members in different, but no less effective, ways.

Virtual Recruitment Success for Fraternities and Sororities

Organizations across the board are having success with virtual recruitment of new members.

  • CSU Bakersfield held a fully structured, fully virtual sorority recruitment with more women participating than the year before.
  • James Madison University reached out virtually to fraternity/sorority professionals and volunteers from all over the country to help guide potential new members.
  • Lambda Phi Epsilon International Fraternity, Inc. developed a comprehensive guide to conducting virtual recruitment that gave chapters guidance on everything from finding potential members to building relationships online.

These and other efforts have led to strong recruitment numbers throughout the fraternal world. And for chapters that might have struggled with recruitment in the past, virtual events have resulted in a leveling of the playing field. Members have been uniquely equipped to share their experiences and fellowship online. Fraternity and sorority leaders say that the sense of community they offer is vital as students try to find their place in this moment.

COVID-19 Testing on Campuses

Institutions have also gotten creative with ways to track the virus on their campuses. Some are testing wastewater from buildings for genetic evidence of virus shed. It can provide an early warning of an outbreak and can enable institutions to limit the need to test every student.

Colgate University, Syracuse University, and the University of Arizona, as well as several colleges in upstate New York, are all using this strategy. It enabled officials at Arizona to learn that several students in a residence hall were infected.

The University of Illinois developed a quick and inexpensive saliva test, and their more than 40,000 students take tests twice a week for the coronavirus. They can’t enter campus buildings unless an app vouches they tested negative.

In an article in Inside Higher Ed, Gerri Taylor, co-chair of the American College Health Association’s COVID-19 task force, said that deciding whether colleges can or have opened successfully depends on one’s definition of success; she doesn’t see high case numbers as evidence of failure. “(Colleges) have been working day and night, tirelessly, to develop plans, to learn from others, to collaborate with public health,” she said.

Student Behavior Outside the Classroom

While student behavior outside the classroom continues to raise concerns, there is evidence to suggest that shaming and blaming students won’t help. While students have a personal responsibility to follow public health guidelines, some experts say universities had unrealistic expectations when they were looking to safely reopen schools populated largely by 18- to 24-year-olds. Isolation isn’t practical on college campuses filled with an age group primed to take risks, and students who have been isolated for months are now back with their friends.

Steps to Help Stop COVID-19 Spread on College Campuses

Colleges need to take harm-reduction approaches, teaching students how to safely socialize with friends. Encouraging outdoor gatherings, and events with social distancing and masks, recognizes that students are going to socialize, and it focuses on making gatherings safer, rather than banning them outright.

Each decision made to reduce risk helps. Each time we wear a mask, we’re increasing safety. Each time we socialize outside instead of inside, we’re lowering our risk. Each time we stay six-feet away instead of sitting close together, we’re protecting each other. Each time we wash our hands, eat apart, and don’t spend time in large gatherings of people, we’re helping contain the spread.

So, let’s recognize and thank those who are trying, especially in the collegiate world. Let’s work together to keep each other safe. And let’s celebrate successes that can help end this pandemic. P.S. If you need tips to help you out, don’t hesitate to email us!

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