Leaders of fraternities and sororities at UCR discuss the ups and downs of operating through COVID-19

Social fraternities and sororities are a rather famous part of the typical university image and college experience. Like many other on-campus organizations, they seek to provide opportunities for everything from professional and personal development to social networking, as well as to foster a sense of community and belonging among the students who join their ranks. However, these fraternity and sorority organizations in particular can be unique in their immersiveness and their pledge to lifelong membership. 

Of course, these organizations are still not immune to the isolating effects of COVID-19. The Highlander talked to a few in regards to how they have been managing the negative impact that the pandemic has brought about and their feelings regarding the near future.

Ryan Poon /The Highlander

Rasneek Singh, third-year psychology and public policy major and president of Gamma Phi Beta:

According to Rasneek Singh, the women of Gamma Phi Beta’s morale has seen some fluctuation as they strive to find new ways to support all members and keep them engaged during the COVID-19 imposed restrictions.

“We’re still able to connect with sisters virtually and celebrate our sisters in modified ways, so we’re trying to keep all of our spirits high,” she stated, adding that they are consistent with their weekly meetings and have worked quickly to move some of their most highly anticipated events like date nights and semi-formals onto an online platform. Indeed, Singh told The Highlander that the sorority has been somewhat lucky, as they have been able to successfully host and participate in virtual social and philanthropic events. In fact, she reported that their philanthropic fundraising event, Gamma Phright Night held during November of 2020, was a surprising triumph as they managed to raise more money than in years past when the event was held in person. 

When asked about recruitment, Singh stated that it was a “brand new experience” for everyone. Normally, rush week is filled with four days worth of recruitment events — two open house days where a rushee meets all the chapters on campus, followed by a more exclusive philanthropy day and preference day. The night preceding is when rushees receive their bids and discover which organization they are to join. As a lively weeklong event, all of the panhellenic sororities had to work hard in order to completely shift it to an online medium. 

Though they managed well, Singh confessed that as a whole, there was a significant drop in recruitment numbers compared to years past. However, considering the severe pandemic limitations, the women of Gamma Phi Beta are pleased with the quality of their newest members. 

For Singh in particular, striking a balance between all of her personal, academic and extracurricular responsibilities was challenging at first. However, she noted that remote learning has actually given her more leeway in terms of scheduling and more time to accomplish tasks in between classes. Having adjusted fairly well, she is now chiefly concerned with the near future of the sorority, namely how they will be navigating next fall quarter, but Singh is faithful. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to grow as a Panhellenic community in the fall when we’re finally back in person,” she concluded.

Lorenzo Bazzani, second-year cell molecular and developmental biology major and president of Sigma Phi Epsilon:

For Lorenzo Bazzani and the men of Sigma Phi Epsilon, the inability to physically gather has been a particularly harsh blow. From missing in-person leadership conferences to halting popular events like socials and formals, the quality of their professional, social and academic lives have been heavily impacted. 

However, according to Bazzani, the fraternity has been working that much harder to continue being a connected and worthwhile space for all members, no matter where they might be. “Pretty much everyone in the chapter is looking to improve some aspect of their life, whether that be investing, finding a job, or getting their grades up,” he stated. 

Bearing that in mind, they developed new ways to help one another. In lieu of library studying time, they created a special discord server for those who want or need to take time out of their day to study for classes. In the interest of those who are looking for advice or aid regarding the workforce, they began orchestrating monthly alumni meetings, something that is reportedly much easier now, thanks to the now common usage of Zoom. In addition, they are in the process of adapting more joint philanthropic events to online platforms, in honor of organizations like Read Across America.

Now, Sigma Phi Epsilon reportedly places a strong emphasis on being well balanced. As a full-time student with a service job at Chick-fil-A and a prominent leadership position within his fraternity, Bazzani’s time is spent striking a balance between all three. “As a second year, it’s a daunting task to lead a 40-man organization with so many older, more experienced people in it,” he stated, adding that this presidency is his first considerable leadership experience. Though Bazzani noted that it is tough at times, he is grateful to receive much helpful support from their previous chapter president as well as their national board. 

Though they are keeping as busy as possible, Bazzani and other members are also taking a proactive approach to their worries for the future. They are chiefly concerned about how to better market themselves to potential new members, as well as how to continue adding value to the lives of one another, and are continuously brainstorming potential solutions. Thanks to their dedication, Bazzani affirmed that their recruitment rates were solid this past year, and overall, he is confident that the fraternity will remain strong.

Jasmine Pennala, third-year history and global studies major and president of Sigma Kappa:

Jasmine Pennala and the women of Sigma Kappa expressed some similar sentiments in regards to the arduous process of acclimating to COVID-19 life. They miss everything from formal events to on-campus tabling every Wednesday, but they especially miss just being able to see one another on a near daily basis. 

According to Pennala, when UCR first began reinforcing pandemic-related safety measures, they were focused on their own personal lives and trying to manage the new complications that had arisen, and there was a stretch of time when general morale was low. Pennala herself experienced hardships as she moved back home and dealt with her online school workload as well as her responsibilities to the chapter. 

Still, she and the other officers reportedly dedicated a lot of time to figuring out how they were going to function best despite the drastic changes, and after adjusting, members were able to put more attention back into the sorority. “Although being online was difficult and new, our chapter began to appreciate all the things we took for granted like meetings and our chapter’s group chat has become more vulnerable and supportive due to these times,” Pennala stated.

In order to stay better connected with each other, Pennala explained that the women of Sigma Kappa placed an even stronger emphasis on self-care and well-being on all levels: physical, mental and professional. They established more sisterhood events, hosting game and movie nights over Zoom; they also implemented a new study program to keep one another accountable and try to mediate any stress caused by remote learning.

When talking about recruitment, Pennala remained exceedingly positive. In spite of the hassle of adapting to an online rush environment and the inevitable Zoom fatigue, she contended that it was an easier process than in the past due to not needing to worry about room decor or staying on her feet all day. In fact, Pennala informed The Highlander that Sigma Kappa was able to recruit more members this school year than they had in the past. “I believe it’s because of the pandemic and women seeking to find a community of people who share the same values and interests,” she affirmed. 

Now, like many others, Pennala is primarily worried about the uncertainty of the future. She is eager to see a return to normalcy, but the health of herself and her fellow members are top priority. Still, regardless of what may happen within the next several months, Pennala is hopeful that Sigma Kappa will maintain their strong bonds and continue to make more memories together. 

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