Editor’s note: The Daily Emerald changed the names of the sorority members interviewed for this story to protect their housing status and to avoid possible retaliation.
For most sororities on campus, members are contractually required to live in for one to two years of their time as an active participant. These contracts are typically signed well in advance, meaning most members who planned to live in for the 2020-21 school year signed their lease before they knew how extreme COVID-19 would become.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends social distancing and limiting the number of people that individuals come in contact with to lower the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 in shared or congregate housing. Living in a sorority house, however, poses challenges to these recommendations.
Sarah, one member of a sorority, explained that living in a sorority house right now is much different than she expected. While she was still excited to have the experience of living in her chapter facility, there are several adjustments that have come with living there.
“It’s a lot more isolating,” Sarah said. “You have to wear a mask anytime you’re not in your room or not eating. When you go to the bathroom, obviously you have to wash your face and brush your teeth, so you walk in with one [and] take it off.”
She said all of the meals are pre-packaged, and each member is assigned a time to come pick up their meals. They are allowed to eat in the dining room, as each table now only has two chairs to accommodate for social distancing guidelines.
To accommodate for COVID-19, only half of the members of Sarah’s pledge class are now allowed to live in. Executing this was no problem, Sarah said, as more members volunteered to live out than wanted to live in. Sarah said that members of the sorority’s executive board, as well as the national headquarters, are trying to find ways to navigate 26 women living together. The rules, however, are inconsistent.
“They’ll blatantly ignore some things,” Sarah said. “Like during work week, when everyone was together not wearing masks they didn’t say anything, but then later they got mad for something completely different.”
Sarah is filing for dispensation — an exemption to live out of the chapter facility— for winter term. To do this, she has to write a letter to the officials in charge of housing for her sorority explaining why she wants to move out. She said her main reason for doing so is that living in the sorority house during a pandemic has caused even further stress.
“You don’t know where everyone’s been,” Sarah said. “If I go see friends that aren’t in Greek life, I don’t want to have to be overly stressed that I’m gonna get them sick because I live in the house, and if I see people, I don’t want to get the house sick.”
Sarah said her parents are older and have medical conditions, and she wants to be able to see them without putting them at any risk. She thinks that because of her circumstances, she will be granted dispensation.
Gigi Rutsky, president of Kappa Delta, said her chapter made the decision over the summer to close their chapter facility for the year.
“We made this decision to ensure the health and safety of our chapter members, as that is our top priority,” Rutsky said.
Other chapter facilities on campus weren’t as transparent with their plans for their members living in going into the school year. A member of another chapter, Lauren, mentioned there was an addendum in her chapter’s housing contract stating the live-ins were not guaranteed a refund if they were to get evicted due to COVID-19.
Contracts in sororities, however, are common, and for some it can be easy to accidentally skim over important information.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Sign it, sign it, sign it,’ and you just kind of get tired of people asking you to sign it, and then you do,” Lauren said. “I am used to just not reading contracts, because we have so many thrown our way.”
Lauren said there has been a general lack of transparency and communication about COVID-19 accommodations in her chapter, which causes confusion for girls trying to figure out the best plan for their specific situation. Her chapter president sent out a poll asking if the members would rather live in the chapter facility or stay home, and those wanting to stay home were notified that they didn’t have to pay rent fall term.
However, there was a miscommunication as there was no option for coming back to Eugene, but not living in the house. Lauren moved back to Eugene after marking the “stay at home” option, not realizing it would cause complications with her chapter, and an expectation for her to pay her sorority’s “live-in” rent.
“I am now being held accountable to pay my rent for the sorority,” she said. “That’s confusing, because they never really gave us that information prior. They never said, ‘If you choose to move back, you are going to be held accountable for your rent.’”
Sarah hopes that she will get dispensation and no longer be accountable to pay rent for her chapter facility, but she said the overall unprecedented time has left her confused about what will happen to her chapter facility in the future.
“I know that other people have been trying to get dispensation,” Sarah said. “I think that if they’re saying they’re uncomfortable, I just think there’s no way that they can deny them it. But I don’t really know what that means for the house.”
Applying for dispensation is a case-by-case situation, so the members will hear back individually at some point in the future about whether their request is granted.
“Hopefully by the time that, if girls want to live in next year, they will have figured most things out, and we’re kind of just the lab rats for it,” Sarah said. “Right now everyone’s just figuring out how most things work, so I don’t know.”
Leo Baudhuin contributed reporting to this story.