By Maggie Hackman, Epsilon–University of Kentucky
While businesses and organizations continue to readjust goals and priorities for 2020, finding a “new normal” seems like hunting for a moving target. For the Fraternity Housing Corporation, the impact of COVID-19 has been vast. As we continue to understand the lasting impact of COVID-19, the FHC finds joy in appreciating its members, local staff and employees who have evolved alongside them.
When collegiate members returned to their homes and families in March, the FHC staff began to plan for a safe fall return. Its staff met in virtual work groups to determine how to best support collegiate housing in the areas of communal sleeping, food service, cleaning standards and guest policies. As understanding of COVID-19 developed, the landscape of higher education and various local requirements for communal living changed daily. This required the FHC to be even more agile when meeting a variety of chapter needs.
The mission of the FHC is simple: provide collegiate housing that is safe, competitive, attractive, where members can make friendships to last a lifetime. Every day since March 9, that mission has been tested as safety—one of the key FHC pillars—was put to the test. How does sorority living take place in a world where members must stay six feet apart? What would fall move-in look like without the giggles and hugs shared between sisters who have been apart for months?
Just as the FHC adapted, so have collegiate members. Collegiate women have been forced to modify their lifestyles and behaviors to ensure the safety of themselves and others. The Safe On Purpose campaign was created to empower chapters to implement safety measures based on their location, facility and local guidelines.
Through the Safe on Purpose campaign, members were reminded part of their purpose as Alpha Gamma Delta women is to cherish friendships, which may look different in every season of life. Fewer hugs, closed bedrooms doors and virtual sisterhood events have replaced a large part of the social aspects of the social experience.
"COVID-19 has changed both my college and sorority experience. It has been stressful, emotional and difficult to navigate," said Rachel Foust, Delta–University of Minnesota. "Inevitably it is going to impact all of us in one way, shape or form, but I am so thankful to have sisters that have stood by me through it all!"
At the local level, the re-envisioned housing experience looks something like this: In the foyer, members and visitors are greeted by a hand sanitizer station and digital sign-in sheet. Once inside, members in common spaces wear masks. Dining rooms may see the biggest change—empty chairs. To put it simply, things are different.
FHC House Directors have also had their world turned upside-down. Providing a positive live-in experience in these conditions while balancing their own safety has been a challenge.
With state and campus regulations varying from campus to campus, each House Director must enact a different set of rules and practices. Many House Directors have said getting to know the women in their chapter is one of the most rewarding parts of their job, but most have had to forgo that in 2020 to work safely behind the scenes.
“The absence of the jovial laughter and constant revolving doors as people go in and out to attend activities of daily life is drastically muted," said Karen Travis, House Director at Beta Xi–Purdue University.
For chapters with meal service, Regional Culinary Manager Greg Ferris has worked to ensure they had a plan in motion to keep the dining room and meal service safe no matter the severity of COVID-19 in their community.
Prior to COVID-19, a traditional sorority house meal service included a buffet-style salad bar and entrée for both lunch and dinner. Now, where possible, chapter meal services have shifted to a served buffet, where meals are plated by kitchen staff and placed onto a table to be picked up from a safe distance. Where served buffets are not possible, chapters have shifted to to-go dining options. In this scenario, meals are packaged into reusable containers and eaten in personal spaces. At chapter facilities where live-out members have a meal plan, members pick up their meal from the back patio or another safe area of the house.
"As the chef, I have a responsibility to make sure members are well fed and being able to stay safe while doing so. Being able to adjust to the changing circumstances has been a challenge that I am glad to take on," said Aaron Armentrout, Head Chef at Alpha Lambda–The Ohio State University.
While we look forward to the return of traditional dining, to the sound of forks scraping plates and members catching up after a long day of class, we are beyond grateful for the work of our local FHC staff.
Like all areas of the Fraternity, the pandemic has had a financial impact on the FHC. By the end of May, more than $1,500,000 of room and board was forgiven. Though chapter homes were empty, expenses continued to climb. In addition to the regular summer maintenance and property upkeep, more than $60,000 of masks, hand sanitizer, signage and special cleaning supplies were purchased and shipped to chapters to ensure best practices were in place by the beginning of the fall term.
Organizations are not only defined by their words but also by their actions—and the FHC is.committed to providing the safest possible accommodations for its members. If you live in an FHC chapter home, we hope the Safe on Purpose Campaign provides you comfort knowing you are heard, protected and valued.
Safe on Purpose breaks down all aspects of sorority living and outlines FHC recommendations based on the following levels: SAFE, SAFER and SAFEST. Each chapter’s Executive Council has the autonomy to determine what level of precaution will be taken in each category to outline it in their Community Agreement. This agreement can be revised at any time depending on the severity of COVID-19 in their community. Locally, collegiate leaders have been empowered to make hard decisions, prioritize safety and hold members accountable for taking care of one another.
This campaign consists not only of best practices and recommendations, but also messaging to provide direction to members and reinforce safe behavior. Utilizing lines of the Purpose and images of our Founders, it reminds members to consider their sisters and others in their community when making decisions. When members see these words and images on signs and other places, we hope they are reminded of their commitment to Alpha Gamma Delta, which will motivate them to make safe, healthy and smart decisions. As always, don’t forget to Develop, Prize AND Sanitize!