Although rapidly decreasing COVID-19 case numbers among University of Virginia students led administrators to lift stay-at-home orders for students on and off Grounds last week, the school’s Greek-life leaders are continuing to restrict in-person activities for fraternities and sororities.
The Inter-Fraternity Council is suspending all organized in-person activity until the end of March, according to a message on the council’s website. The Inter-Sorority Council, in an email sent to member chapters, suspended in-person gatherings until March 12.
The decisions were announced after UVa officials reopened Grounds for student gatherings of up to six people providing masks and social distancing are observed.
“In January, the Inter-Fraternity Council decided to lift the ban on in-person events after seeing widespread compliance with the restrictions in the fall,” the council’s Feb. 26 statement reads. “Since then, there have been multiple incidents of blatant noncompliance and disrespect for the less restrictive rules. Such behavior is irresponsible, and puts the health of the university community and many Charlottesville residents in unnecessary danger.”
The council crackdown includes prohibiting events, whether “social, brotherhood, new member activities, etc.”
“Housing and meal plans are the only exception to this mandate,” the statement reads. “In the meantime, the [council board] will be working on ways to increase peer accountability and hold chapters accountable for their actions.”
UVa officials said they support the actions.
“We appreciate the decision by the [fraternity council and sorority council] member chapters to revert to the suspension of all in-person activity they previously adopted for the fall semester,” UVa Dean of Students Allen Groves said. “The recent concerning rise in students testing positive, now contained as a result of students cooperating with heightened restrictions from Feb. 16 to Feb. 28, shows the COVID pandemic remains a significant threat.”
Nearly 650 students tested positive for the virus in the first two weeks of the spring semester with a high of 229 cases reported on Feb. 16. That’s the day university administrators restricted students to their residences except for trips to class, food and work. Off-Grounds students were prohibited from coming onto the campus except to attend classes.
According to the UVa COVID tracker, during the 10-day crackdown COVID-19 cases dropped from a seven-day average of 109 cases per day on Feb. 20 to a seven-day average of 28 daily cases by Feb. 28.
Administrators said the surge was due to the entire student body’s general noncompliance with restrictions and not directly related to in-person recruitment events held by some fraternities and sororities.
Those events generated fervent criticism on social media and among student activists. On Feb. 23, the UVa Student Council passed a resolution ‘denouncing the university’s negligence regarding [fraternity and sorority] violations of COVID-19 restrictions for recruitment events.’
The resolution calls for a written apology that recognizes administrators’ “failure to enforce their own COVID-19 restrictions.” It also called for temporary suspensions of Greek organizations accused of noncompliance while the accusations are under review.
At least five and as many as eight organizations, both fraternities and sororities, are said to be under investigation by university officials for possible violations of the six-person limit.
The sorority council, in an Instagram post on Feb. 19, said the “recklessness exhibited by some members of our community is extremely disappointing and these utterly careless actions put all of our health at risk.”
“Although we mostly saw widespread compliance, social media and other platforms indicted that some chapters were not,” the statement reads. “These chapters and individuals are currently undergoing the university’s judicial process and the [sorority council] is discussing further mechanisms to hold our organization accountable moving forward.”
The fraternity council intends to reevaluate the restrictions at the end of the month.
“As an organization, we feel it is critical to recognize the efforts our members have taken to prioritize safety and minimize the spread of COVID-19, and also acknowledge our shortcomings in this endeavor,” the fraternity council’s Feb. 26 statement reads.