Despite UT accounting for 23% of COVID-19 cases in Travis County last week, students living off campus have continued to violate COVID-19 guidelines — largely without consequences from the University. We’re starting to see COVID-19 clusters develop, and the number of new COVID-19 cases multiplies every day.
“With recruitment last week, there were 40 girls outside a (sorority) house wearing halos but not masks,” business junior PJ Chukwurah said. “That really shows the lack of accountability and empathy in Greek life.”
To protect the well-being of the UT community, the University needs to do more to oversee Greek life organizations. UT must release information about Greek life COVID-19 rule violations — similar to how it routinely informs students of organizational hazing violations — and create a permanent task force that investigates Greek organizations’ infractions and conducts disciplinary hearings to hold members responsible.
Sara Kennedy, director of strategic and executive communications for the Office of the Dean of Students, said in an email that “Student Conduct and Academic Integrity is not currently pursuing any investigations into off-campus events, as part of the campuswide philosophy to focus on the health and well-being of our students and community.”
82% of UT students live off campus. The vast majority of UT’s fraternities and sororities are located off campus as well. Greek life parties have the potential to infect students who will eventually make their way onto campus for in-person classes.
On campus, students interact with faculty, staff and with each other. Any effort the University makes to focus on the health and well-being of UT students has to involve the oversight of off-campus events.
Moreover, we know several other universities comparable to UT already do more.
At Florida State University, each Greek life organization has a “scorecard” that lets students know if the chapter is in good standing with the University.
Louisiana State University requires all Greek life members to sign a “membership contract” that stipulates students follow all University policies and allows the University to intervene when deemed necessary. In 2015, Texas Tech launched a reporting website that allowed students to report whether Greek life organizations were violating university codes of conduct.
These universities have implemented extensive accountability and transparency measures to keep their Greek life organizations — on and off campus — in check. We believe UT can, and should, do the same.
David Kelly, astronomy and physics junior and Interfraternity Council president, said the majority of the reports of COVID-19 violations the council has received concerned fraternity members who have held gatherings in their apartments.
“The issue has become a few dozen full-time students like me and some other chapter presidents are essentially being placed in charge of 2,000 IFC members,” Kelly said.“We absolutely have the ability to self-govern chapter facilities and chapter events, but we're hoping the University takes a more active role in off-campus apartments.”
Despite the ban on parties, the University has done little to prevent them from happening, and has not held the organizations or people throwing them accountable.
“They can sanction organizations for things like hazing, but they’re not doing anything during COVID-19,” neuroscience sophomore Annisa Salsabila said. “UT doesn’t have a plan for how to stop these organizations, or they just don’t care enough to limit their activities.”
UT sends out an email a few times a year to the student body with details on hazing violations student organizations have committed in the past three years.
While we realize UT is under no legal obligation to do the same with COVID-19 rule violations, we believe students have the right to know if members of an organization they want to join violated COVID-19 guidelines and intentionally put others in danger. UT must begin to conduct investigations into reported COVID-19 guideline violations off campus and inform the student body of its findings.
The University has the resources and the ability to better hold Greek life accountable. Doing so is especially imperative now, when a pandemic threatens the safety of the UT community as a whole.