Recreating sorority life during COVID-19

Faith Quigley is a senior media studies major.

GRAPHIC BY DANA CAPISTRANO/GRAPHICS CENTER

            Sitting through Zoom meetings for work and school is enough to leave us feeling ready to unplug by the end of the day, but our social lives also now rely on our staying online. With hundreds of student organizations trying to replicate their pre-Coronavirus experiences over a virtual platform, sororities have been one of the many successful groups on campus in keeping their communities connected. 

            USF’s campus is home to three social sororities: Kappa Alpha Theta, Delta Zeta, and Delta Delta Delta (or Tri Delta). The broader organization, the Panhellenic Council, also oversees the wellbeing of these three organizations and their roughly 350 members.  

As a freshman on campus, I went through recruitment in fall 2017 looking to find a community on campus that felt like a home away from home. As I get ready to graduate this December, reflecting on my time at USF has really opened my eyes to just how much Kappa Alpha Theta became that place for me three years ago. 

            “Trying to make sure we could do recruitment over Zoom was the first obstacle in itself,” Injy Elhabrouk, a senior international studies major and the president of the Panhellenic Council, said. Elhabrouk is also a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, though she has to “disaffiliate” during recruitment season to avoid any perceived bias toward her own sorority. She explained that the Panhellenic Council’s main responsibility, outside of ensuring a sense of community between all of the social sororities, is planning and executing the complex process of formal recruitment in the fall. Preparing for recruitment takes up seven months of the year in and of itself. 

The application process begins with each potential new member (PNM) submitting a document answering some questions about themselves, encompassing academic history, philanthropy work, community involvement, and hobbies and interests, among other areas of a PNM’s life. Each PNM is then given a Panhellenic Counselor (Pi Chi) who helps them navigate the recruitment weekend, during which sororities hold social mixers which allow PNMs to get a sense of what each sorority is like. Likewise, it acts as an opportunity for the sorority to get to know each PNM. 

At the end of each day, both the PNM and the sorority vote in a mutual selection process, which each decides whether or not they think the other is a good fit. At then end of the weekend each sorority extends their bids, or invitations to join, and PNMs accept or deny, and hopefully “run home” and begin the new member process in their chosen sorority. 

Speaking from experience, this weekend is truly best described as beautiful chaos. There is so much adrenaline and excitement leading up to the process, and though it is an exhausting one, the feeling of meeting so many amazing people and getting to welcome some of them home is truly rewarding. 

Naturally, this process required some major adjustment this year. 

            Elhabrouk said that, at first, the Council was unsure of how many people would even be interested in joining a sorority during this time. But, in the end, “Everybody pulled through and cherished this opportunity to create a sense of community in a virtual world where a lot of people were feeling really lonely,” she said. 

This year, I was given the opportunity to sit on the cabinet board of my sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, as the new member director. Under the current conditions, I won’t lie — it was a tricky position to navigate. As well as planning various events, I had to communicate with a new member class that is scattered throughout the country — a new member class that was also the largest my chapter has seen in years. 

I handled a number of obstacles, like figuring out how to ship customary new member gifts (the answer: a two hour trip to USPS that held up the line as they individually weighed my 35 packages). But in the end, the rewards were ten-fold. I felt that through all of our virtual crafting events, one-on-one FaceTime calls, “The Bachelorette” watch parties, and massive group texts, our new members were able to connect with each other and our older members. 

During our Big/Little reveal, in which each new member is assigned a “big,” a mentor in the sorority, we had a turnout of over 150 people in the Zoom room. Even graduated members from as far back as the class of 2017 were able to log in and welcome the new members of their family. It was such an incredibly heartwarming experience, and I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to use the challenges this online world has given us to really unite people through a common love of our chapter. 

Other leaders in each of USF’s Panhellenic sororities elaborated on why being a part of a sorority has been a valuable experience, even in this Zoom universe. 

“What we realized over the summer [after cutting operations mid Spring semester], was that people needed this,” Gaby Correa, president of the Xi Lambda chapter of Delta Zeta, said. She said that, this semester, the top priority for the chapter was ensuring the physical, mental and academic wellness of their members, supporting them in whatever capacity possible. Through virtual sisterhood events and a strong social media presence, they were able to engage with and foster a sense of community for their chapter.

            One particular project that Delta Zeta breathed life into this semester was establishing their newly instated Equity Education Program. In addition to an already established Cultural Awareness Chairwoman position, this program works to educate members on issues like institutionalized racism, cultural appropriation and non-heteronormative sexual health. “We talk about our values in recruitment every year, but this process required really putting all these to the test,” Correa said. 

            Lena Werner, CEO of USF’s Kappa Alpha Theta, shared similar thoughts. “Our priority was providing as many different types of ways for our members to connect during a time when they are feeling disconnected and overwhelmed in other areas of their lives,” she said. Werner emphasized that Kappa Alpha Theta’s leadership wanted the sorority to be an opportunity for members to unload and chat with other women going through the hardships of this time, and not just another responsibility for its members to manage. 

            She noted that part of this mission meant working hard over the summer to prepare an engaging recruitment and new member process. This included creating a Justice Plan that outlined the semester’s priorities, like implementing educational resources on social justice issues, and ensuring safe spaces for members to share their thoughts and struggles. 

           For Tri Delta, a huge emphasis was put on continuing to raise money for their national philanthropy, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Among several of their other virtual events this semester that focused on fostering sisterhood, Tri Delta felt that their service efforts were able to unite their members as they also worked to serve others. 

            Director of Philanthropy Alley Holbrook explained that through various remote events like a virtual walk/run and other online fundraisers and auctions, the chapter was able to raise $6,312 in total for St. Jude. “The sisterhood is still there,” Tri Delta President Megan Commers said. “Regardless of all of these obstacles, we still can feel connected and be proud of ourselves.”

            Individually, and together, all of these organizations have provided support to many members of the USF community, which is a triumph in this virtual world where fostering a sense of community can be a challenge. If you are interested in learning more about these organizations, you can find them on Instagram: @usfcatridelta @usfcatheta @deltazetausf @usfca.panhellenic

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