Dean of Students Allen Groves confirmed during a town hall Friday that the University has brought cases against a number of individual students and five fraternities for COVID-19 violations.
Following increased restrictions Tuesday that further limited gatherings, many students took to social media to call out the Inter-Fraternity and Inter-Sorority Councils’ decision to allow in-person recruitment events as a leading contributor to massive spikes in cases. The University has stated that while Greek life is likely one factor, the rise in noncompliance and case counts is widespread across the student body.
Photographs obtained by The Cavalier Daily show clear violations of University, local and state COVID-19 guidelines during the recruitment period at both Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. In the images, both fraternity and sorority members can be seen violating the University's universal mask mandate, social distancing guidelines and six-person gathering limit, all of which were in place when the events took place Feb. 12 and 14, respectively.
Photo evidence submitted to The Cavalier Daily relating to Pi Kappa Phi shows at least 13 individuals, including the photographer, socializing around beer pong tables at the fraternity house the night of Feb. 12. The individuals pictured are not practicing proper social-distancing guidelines as required by the University at the time the picture was taken. At least one individual appears to be wearing a mask in the photo, but a minimum of three others do not. The photo was taken and posted by a first-year student on social media. The student has not responded to a request for comment from The Cavalier Daily as of press time.
Phillip Griffin, Pi Kappa Phi president and fourth-year College student, said the fraternity is looking into this violation and declined to comment further until after its executive board meeting Sunday. In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Groves confirmed that a report was submitted to the University’s community concerns portal the night of Feb. 12, but a photo was not originally included.
It is unclear if Pi Kappa Phi is one of the five fraternities Groves revealed violations were being brought against, but Groves did confirm that the incident photographed is under review.
Additional photographic evidence submitted to The Cavalier Daily shows violations of masking protocol, social distancing guidelines and gathering limits by Kappa Alpha Theta sorority on bid day Feb. 14. At least 16 girls can be seen standing in front of the house socializing while an additional 16 line the second floor balcony of the house. Though a few individuals appear to be wearing masks in the photos, at least 13 individuals are either wearing a mask below their chin or do not have one at all.
The photographs contrasted with what the sorority posted to — and since deleted from — its Instagram account featuring bid day celebrations, which only showed members in groups of six or fewer.
Kate McGreevy, CEO of Kappa Alpha Theta and third-year Commerce student, described the photos as a “momentary anomaly” that is “not representative” of the sorority’s opinions regarding the pandemic. Witnesses who passed by the house the afternoon of bid day, however, said that this behavior continued for at least 20 minutes before the group broke up.
In an additional email statement to The Cavalier Daily, McGreevy clarified that the 16 girls pictured on the second-floor balcony were residents of the house, but did not address the 16 individuals congregated in front of the house without masks and in violation of the University’s then six-person gathering limit.
“While I am unaware of the exact amount of time that they were on the terrace, I can assure you that they were in accordance with all house rules during that time and were far more than six feet away from any nonresidents,” McGreevy said.
Groves confirmed that the University has received a community concerns report involving the sorority, but could not specify whether it involved the same incident pictured in the photos obtained by The Cavalier Daily.
The Cavalier Daily is in the process of investigating at least six IFC chapters and two ISC chapters for alleged violations of public health guidelines during the first two-and-a-half weeks of the spring semester.
IFC and ISC introduce in-person recruitment plans
The Inter-Sorority Council and Inter-Fraternity Council reversed their ban on in-person events Jan. 26. The ban, which the organizations originally implemented in August, was in place throughout the fall semester. After the reversal, any in-person events — such as those during recruitment — were subject to University, local and state COVID-19 guidelines. When recruitment occurred, the University’s regulations limited in-person gatherings to six people, mandated mask-wearing when not actively eating or drinking and set strict social-distancing guidelines.
Following the announcement, both the ISC and IFC held in-person components to recruitment. While the ISC only permitted chapters to host socially-distanced, masked bid-day celebrations, the IFC allowed chapters to organize in-person rounds ahead of bid day.
According to the IFC’s official guide to spring 2021 recruitment, the IFC Governing Board believed that it was “absolutely crucial” that potential new members engaging with fraternities had the ability to spend time with brothers in person to ensure they make the right decision.
“We believe it is unfair to place stricter restrictions on our chapters than those of the University, city and state, and it is detrimental to [potential new members], especially those from diverse backgrounds, to have no opportunities for in-person interactions with active fraternity members,” the guide said. “We fully trust all of our chapters will follow all COVID guidelines and that we will all hold each other accountable during this recruitment period.”
Before recruitment, the IFC organized a task force of 160 fraternity brothers — with each chapter contributing at least five members — to monitor compliance with COVID-19 regulations and report “egregious violation[s]” during the rush process. The organization categorized violations into three tiers, with the worst offense being “intentional violations of large scale” which included events with more than 10 people, refusal of brothers to wear masks or no attempt at social distancing.
For the ISC, the entirety of recruitment was held virtually with the exception of bid day, for which some chapters held in-person components. According to an ISC letter to the community posted Friday, if any of the ISC’s 15 sororities wanted to host an in-person bid-day event, the ISC had to approve the chapter’s bid-day plan, which must have complied with local health guidelines. The decision to move forward with in-person events was made after consultation with members of the University administration and public health officials.
While the ISC says it “mostly saw widespread compliance,” some reports on social media and other platforms showed otherwise, the statement said. As a result of these violations, several chapters and individuals are now undergoing the University’s judicial process.
“As an organization, we feel it is critical to recognize the efforts our members have taken to prioritize safety and minimize the spread of COVID-19, and also acknowledge our shortcomings in this endeavor,” the ISC statement read. “The recklessness exhibited by some members of our community is extremely disappointing, and these utterly careless actions put all of our health as risk … We will continue to diligently mandate compliance and address infractions to the fullest extent allowed under our organization’s governance.”
Since the official end of Greek-life recruitment Sunday, nearly 650 COVID-19 cases have been identified among students. Single-day caseload records were set both Monday and Tuesday, which saw 121 cases and 229 cases, respectively. Quarantine occupancy is currently at an all-time high, with 49 percent of quarantine space occupied as of Friday afternoon.
U.Va. has “no doubt” rush contributed to spike, as did other violations
In the Friday town hall, University President Jim Ryan said that there is “no doubt” that recruitment contributed to the rise in cases and willful violations of public health guidelines — however, he added that “innocent mistakes” such as taking off masks while eating inside or sitting too closely with other people likely also contributed to the increased caseload. There “were dozens if not hundreds of other interactions completely outside the context of rush” that also led to the recent case spike, Ryan said.
Ryan clarified that both the University Police department and Ambassador force were enlisted to monitor the activity of Greek houses during the recruitment process, noting that UPD officers were given Groves’ personal cell phone number in case they needed to respond to a violation immediately.
“In hindsight, perhaps we should have tried harder to discourage all in-person rush events,” Ryan said. “This was another situation where we were trying sincerely to strike the right balance between freedom and trust on the one hand, and complete control on the other. If we got that balance wrong, I'm sorry, and please lay the blame at my feet, as I'm ultimately responsible.”
According to Dr. Mitch Rosner, chair of the Department of Medicine and a speaker at Friday’s town hall, cases are widespread across the entire University, with approximately 75 percent of cases coming from students living off Grounds. A map of cases displayed during the town hall shows that while there are a number of cases within first-year residence halls, many cases are also distributed among off-Grounds residences near the Corner and Rugby Road.
The map shows at least 173 cases of COVID-19 within first-year residence halls and at least 177 cases of COVID-19 in off-Grounds residences located behind the Corner and around Rugby Road. Cases are also rising across graduate student populations, the University notes.
“[Graduate students] are actually testing at higher positivity rates than the faculty and staff who are voluntarily testing,” Provost Liz Magill said, noting that because graduate students tend to “live, study and socialize among or alongside undergraduate students,” it is hard to separate the populations.
According to Rosner, there has been a more than 300 percent rise in cases sustained over the course of multiple days, which suggests numerous, continuing transmission events.
Ryan’s remarks on Friday come after administrators said that there was no evidence that the recent increase in COVID-19 cases was primarily related to Greek life recruitment in a University-wide email sent Thursday afternoon.
Groves also clarified during the town hall that when a report is filed about a Greek organization through the University's community concerns portal, the Office of the Dean of Students files those reports with the University Judiciary Committee, which then hosts a hearing and administers a sanction. Still, ODOS maintains the ability to issue an interim suspension for egregious violations — trials for these violations are then expedited through the UJC’s hearing process.
IFC addresses heavy community criticism
The IFC released a statement Wednesday defending its decision to allow chapters to host in-person events. According to the statement, some preemptive reports of potential violations allowed the IFC’s Governing Board to shut down events that would have broken policy if they had occurred.
Andrew Huffman, IFC president and third-year College student, said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily that the IFC sought advice from the University as it modeled recruitment protocol after SEC-045. Huffman could not disclose how many reports the IFC has received of fraternity noncompliance, but he said the organization is working with ODOS to investigate complaints.
“We recognize that we took a risk,” Huffman said. “We took appropriate precautions and set guidelines that were appropriate, and we're working on getting all of the violations that we've now heard about and are still hearing about in the present adjudicated and sanctioned appropriately.”
The IFC governing board consists of 13 fraternity men who represent around 1,700 members across 32 chapters. An estimated 673 students seeking to join fraternities enrolled in the recruitment process this spring, Huffman said, though not all of these students signed up to participate in in-person events.
As IFC and University investigations into possible instances of noncompliance with health regulations are underway, the Governing Board has shifted all events online.
“Going forward, the IFC remains committed to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and complying with all University guidelines, including the recent ban on all in-person gatherings,” the IFC statement said. “We will conduct all new member activities virtually until small gatherings are again permitted by the University. The Governing Board will continue to process and investigate all allegations of non-compliance as they are reported.”
GroupMe messages posted on social media Thursday also show Huffman urging individuals to not “add fuel to the fire” by hosting or attending in-person events related to pledging and initiation.
“There is no reason to risk any in person activity right now when the consequences are potentially disastrous for the IFC,” Huffman said in the messages. “Everything you want to do can wait.”
Huffman told The Cavalier Daily these private messages were not representative of the IFC’s current position. He added that while he cannot mandate the behavior of individual members, he is using his position of influence to direct chapters to quarantine and get their members tested.
“Our number one priority is the safety of the community and of our members,” Huffman said. “Right now, that means we all need to stay at home and get cases back under control."
According to University spokesperson Brian Coy, the University responds to all credible reports of violations of health and safety protocols and offers several different ways for members of the University community or people who live in the surrounding area to report noncompliance.
“When the Dean’s office receives a report containing specific information about a possible policy violation, it is assigned for investigation and disciplinary action is taken if warranted by the specific evidence discovered,” Coy said. “An immediate interim suspension can be imposed pending a hearing in the most egregious cases, and has been utilized this year.”
An anonymous member of an IFC chapter — unaffiliated with the chapter in the photographic evidence — said that based on personal knowledge of fraternity behavior, and wider IFC leadership conversations, violations of public health guidelines were widespread across chapters.
While he criticized the IFC for allowing in-person recruitment in the first place, the source added that the organization was limited in its ability to monitor chapter behavior and enforce policies.
He added that many chapters planned in-person events with no intention of limiting them to six people. One tactic he described was individual chapters getting IFC approval for nonexistent events that would appear to follow University guidelines, but then proceeding to hold their actual, policy-breaking events in alternate locations.
“I can say with a good degree of confidence that most fraternities broke the six-person rule once or twice, at least,” he said.
The University itself should have anticipated that fraternities would break the rules, he said, and been firmer in its regulation of COVID-19 safety throughout in-person recruitment.
Over 2,000 people have signed a petition calling on the University to suspend non-compliant IFC and ISC organizations until the semester ends.
“These organizations are a clear and present danger to the students and faculty of the University and the greater Charlottesville-Albemarle area and need to be reprimanded as such,” the petition reads. “If they cannot play by the rules, then they shouldn't be allowed to play at all. This was not a slip up, these were intentional actions that took nobody else in the community into consideration.”
This is a developing story. The Cavalier Daily is conducting investigations of potential violations of public health guidelines relating to in-person recruitment events over the past two weeks. Community members can submit a tip on our website or email email@example.com with information.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that it is unclear whether the five fraternity cases Dean Groves referenced during Friday's Town Hall are related to recruitment.
Eva Surovell, Jenn Brice and Carolyn Lane contributed reporting to this story.