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University of Iowa Sorority and Fraternity Members Return to Their Roots in Face of Adversity

The spring semester is a unique one. It promises hope, in the flowers blooming on the Pentacrest and in the hearts of students, feeling the warmth of summer drawing nearer every day. It promises activities like career fairs and commencement to celebrate the transition of Hawkeyes from students into the workforce. For fraternity and sorority members, it also promises events like spring philanthropy events, formal dances, and senior celebrations.

This spring semester is different, though. On March 11th, 2020, the University of Iowa officials announced that all courses would be conducted online for two weeks following the highly anticipated spring break the upcoming week. On March 18th, exactly one week later, the University extended online instruction through the remainder of the spring semester. Commencement ceremonies were moved online, summer courses were moved online, and students were forced to leave their Iowa City homes inside fraternity and sorority chapter houses. Philanthropy events were canceled, formal dances were canceled, and senior traditions that members waited 4 years to participate in were canceled.

The remaining promises? Ritual, connection, and siblinghood.

The founders of our fraternities and sororities did not have the luxuries of zoom, facetime, or skype. They couldn’t text in a group chat with their other 150 brothers, sisters, or siblings. They remained connected through the ritual they laid out. They did this through the documents that would govern the way they interacted with the outside world, and the values that tied them to one other, and their rituals and practices that were the distinguishing factor between members and non-members. Over school breaks, our founders wrote letters and remained steadfast in the knowledge that their connection ran deeper than dancing at events and chanting in a doorway. They knew their missions were more significant than the deep longing to be together that they inevitably experienced.

Today, some may report feeling stripped of what sorority and fraternity offer, without events to attend or a house to call a home. However, I would argue that we are more deeply connected to our roots and each other than ever before. We are reminded that the reason we get to call each other our sisters, siblings, and brothers, is because we are connected in ways that go far beyond what most other friendships offer. We are reminded that we joined our organizations because we felt a connection to one or many people and could see that they valued our values. We joined because we longed to be known by peers, not so that we could participate in “pie a member in the face” competitions (although fun).

Our events are fun. We did join, and those were added in as a perk. But when all those are taken away, we should feel grounded in the fact that we have deep, meaningful connections with the people we chose to surround ourselves with. The flowers still bloom in front of the Pentacrest, and we still share our hearts with those around us, even though the delivery mode may be virtual. We still get to partake in ceremonies like the “Ceremony of Significant Women” that is used on Mom’s Weekend, or the symphony lines mailed to each sister at her home address.

We will stop meeting in giant groups. We will stop hosting events and we will stop focusing on the nitty gritty details in the execution. However, we will not stop empowering each other. We will not stop having tough conversations and getting closer. We will not stop living our lives as reflections of the rituals our founders laid out for us. We will not stop offering safe spaces and fun times. We will keep wearing our letters and we will keep loving each other through the distance that physically distances us.

While there is much to be fearful of and disappointed about, there is so much to be proud of. We are proud of the chapters creating virtual philanthropy donation sites. We are proud of the chapter that used this time to encourage positive conversations regarding other chapters. We are proud of the councils using social media to connect members of other councils. We are proud of our chapters rising up when faced with so many brand-new challenges. We will continue, through it all, to dig deep into what our founders gave us, and we will continue to rise.

-Maddee Whitehead, Alpha Chi Omega