On Saturday February 5, at eight o’clock in the morning, students gathered by their doors for the bid card that would ultimately be slipped underneath. The anticipation and excitement was palpable. Intersorority Council members had been working so hard along with Greek life presidents in preparation for this pivotal moment.
COVID-19 has had its grip on the campus ever since 2020 when students were sent home. Mask mandates, gathering limits, and Zoom classes were now a part of daily life. Thankfully, in the past year, the University has taken great strides in maintaining the health and safety of its students while continuing to lift some of the original restrictions. Now, life on the Mountain is almost normal again. This year’s rush is a prime example of how planning and preparation helped to restore one of the most ordinary and typical Sewanee experiences.
The Purple reached out to Intersorority Council President Adedolapo “Dolly” Prince (C’22) and Intersorority Council Vice President of Recruitment Abigail “Abby” Lancaster (C’22) to learn more about how they were able to create this year’s rush experience with little impact from COVID restrictions.
Potential new members were encouraged to get tested if possible, adjustments were made in advance to provide Zoom links for students going through rush while quarantined, and a conflict form was part of the process this year. The conflict form “made it super flexible and it helped chapters to be aware of what potential new members were excused,” says Prince. This way, even with some students having to quarantine, they were able to participate in rush and every Greek life organization was aware of their desire to participate remotely.
Donald Abels, the Director of Greek Life, says, “The students worked hard to ensure limited or no unexpected schedule changes occurred due to COVID-19. Proactive measures were put in place during the months and weeks leading up to recruitment.”
Prince shares that the University helped prepare them for success this year and Lancaster responds that they had many meetings so that all involved knew what was expected of them and what they were responsible for. Abel says, “Several meetings were held in early January with student leaders and campus stakeholders. The intent of the meetings was to listen and discuss COVID-19 event guidelines for Easter 2022. As a result, the current event guidelines were mutually agreed upon. This includes hosting events with alcohol outdoors.”
Prince and Lancaster both remember Fall Shake Day of 2020, when the celebration was canceled that afternoon for COVID related concerns. “That can’t happen again,” Prince remarks. “Everyone was made aware of school policy and was well prepared to avoid anything like what happened that Shake Day,” says Lancaster.
This year, Greek organizations were required to offer a Zoom option for rushees who tested positive for COVID or felt too ill to rush in-person. Katherine Borasky (C’24), while waiting on test results after feeling sick, continued her return house experience on Zoom after two days of in-person house visits. According to Borasky, the Office of Greek Life was accommodating to her remote rush experience, however she ran into problems with individual organizations.
“Technically they all offered a Zoom option, but I went to Theta Pi’s zoom, and I was the only participant… I checked their Zoom twice I believe and both times there was no one,” Borasky says. Her experience with another organization included waiting in the Zoom waiting room for twenty minutes without anyone letting her in the call.
Borasky was able to participate in Shake day, however, her preference card changed due to her experience on Zoom.
“I think if I had been able to go to return house in-person, I might not have ended up getting what I got…,” she says, “If you can’t show up to your own Zoom, you’re not prioritizing me so I don’t really need to prioritize you on my preference card.”
When asked about Greek organizations and membership this year, Prince says, “It is our role to facilitate the process and we want to help organizations sustain membership so that even when we’re gone, all ten sororities continue to live on. It is up to the sororities, however, whether they gain new members or not.” Lancaster also made clear that the final numbers she reviewed had every sorority gaining more than one member.
Abels says, “We have a wide range of chapter sizes at Sewanee. Some organizations have smaller membership numbers on purpose. While I cannot speak to the retention of new members until chapter rosters are received, every sorority matched with multiple new members. The fraternity recruitment process is less formal than the sorority process, allowing PNMs [potential new members] to receive more than one bid.”
He also remarks that, “I look forward to working with any chapter that wants to increase their membership recruitment numbers. There are many tools and practices to help fraternities and sororities achieve their recruitment goals.”
Prince and Lancaster both agree that this year’s spring rush went really well. Prince says, “I also want to give a shoutout to presidents in chapters for wanting to follow the rules and wanting the process to go well for new members.”
Lancaster says, “We also made a new school record for passing out bids,” which they were both very proud of, laughing as they remembered that Saturday morning. “It’s like Christmas on the mountain,” Prince says. Prince, Lancaster, and other members of the Intersorority Council and Greek Life came together to create this experience not only for new members and freshmen going through recruitment, but for everyone involved who has not been able to live a non-COVID impacted rush in years.
The opportunity to make connections and meet new people in-person is irreplaceable. Even masked, students were able to hold formal house and return house indoors. Students hugging and greeting each other inside is possible again thanks to the preparation that organizers put into this entire week.
Abels says, “As director of Greek Life, I’m constantly impressed with fraternity and sorority leaders’ resilience, leadership capacity, and ability to navigate challenges. This year’s recruitment process was successful because the students rose to the challenge despite the ongoing pandemic.”
Prince sums the conversation up by saying, “It was a great day.”