Dean of Students Allen Groves rejected one plan for in-person Inter-Fraternity Council final hours and bid day in an email dated Jan. 29, according to documents made available to The Cavalier Daily after a Freedom of Information Act request. The email was part of a thread with Groves, two associate deans of students, two Office of the Dean of Students team members and Andrew Huffman, IFC president and third-year College student.
The emails — which were also independently obtained by individual students, who circulated the file on Twitter — led to additional criticism from some individuals over the University’s handling of Greek life recruitment. At the time the emails were sent — between Jan. 26 and 30 — the University was preparing to restart classes with a six-person gathering limit and strict social distancing and masking guidelines.
The plan that was rejected allowed up to eight individuals to gather off Grounds during recruitment rounds, though any additional details about the proposal were redacted.
“Having carefully considered the Final Hours and Bid Day plan in light of the University’s policy SEC-045, I don’t see how the chapters can execute these plans as written without violating University policy,” Groves wrote.
Groves clarified with The Cavalier Daily on Tuesday that any references to gatherings of eight students in the email chain were the result of conversations carried on from the fall semester, which ended with a 10-person gathering limit. These communications did not reflect the final six-person gathering limit the University implemented Jan. 15, Groves said.
On Jan. 26, Huffman shared the IFC’s proposed guidelines — which included a six-person gathering limit — with University deans. A largely redacted email from Associate Dean Julie Caruccio sent Jan. 28 appears to cite a previously-considered policy that suggests an eight-person gathering limit. It is unclear who the primary recipient of Caruccio’s email was, but it was also sent to Groves and other staff members.
The University did not permit any recruitment events that violated its six-person gathering limit, Groves clarified in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily.
“When the fall semester ended [the gathering limit] was 10,” Groves said. “The IFC initially decided over the winter break to limit any spring gatherings to eight. However, the IFC revised the gathering limit to six when the University announced this lower number would be in effect for the spring semester.”
In the email chain obtained by The Cavalier Daily, Groves suggested that fraternities could instead host three separate and socially distanced gatherings of six within the fraternity houses on bid day, provided that the house had separate rooms large enough for social distancing among individuals.
Three prospective members could then enter the fraternity house together and then individually enter three “larger, wholly separate spaces.” There, up to five fraternity brothers could present the bid, in which case they would be under the University’s six-person gathering limit, Groves said.
“I don’t want anyone to mistakenly violate policy and face sanctions or, worse, create a virus ‘spreader’ event without meaning to do so,” Groves wrote in an email to associate deans of students.
At the time recruitment occurred, all University students were subject to Governor Ralph Northam’s executive order, which mandated a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew and banned the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. Under the order, family members — defined as “blood relations, adopted, step and foster relations, as well as all individuals residing in the same household” — were not required to maintain physical distancing while in their homes.
“This is what allows non-related individuals at U.Va. — including 20-plus students living in individual fraternity and sorority houses — to live together in numbers larger than the gathering restrictions imposed by the Commonwealth or U.Va., occasionally termed a ‘family unit,’” Groves said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily Tuesday.
Groves added that the IFC initially believed that the “family unit” exemption from state gathering limits would allow the fraternity men living in the house to be classified as one pod. The redacted email thread was part of the University’s response to this “mistaken belief,” Groves said.
“Any gathering which included a potential new member had to remain at six regardless of whether or not some of those six were residents of the house,” Groves said.
The emails were a part of a much larger conversation between University administrators and IFC and ISC leadership over the course of winter break about how in-person elements of recruitment could be conducted. According to Groves, University staff urged that the safest approach would allow no more than one potential member to enter the house at a time.
“The IFC ultimately accepted this advice and stated in its final bid day plan that only one [Potential New Member] would enter the house at a time to accept their bid and would then leave so the next PNM could enter,” Groves said.
In the final IFC recruitment plan, chapters were permitted to host in-person rounds that abided by University, city and state public health guidelines throughout the 1.5-week recruitment period. The Inter-Sorority Council did not permit chapters to host any in-person recruitment rounds prior to bid day, during which some chapters were allowed to host in-person events.
“We believe it is unfair to place stricter restrictions on our chapters than those of the University, city and state,” the plan said. “We fully understand the concern of many individuals that this may lead to certain chapters breaking mandated COVID rules, but we believe it is absolutely crucial that PNMs participating in IFC rush have the ability to have some in-person contact with active fraternity members to ensure they make the right decision.”
After recruitment ended Feb. 14, more than 700 students tested positive for COVID-19 in one week. The University has maintained that in-person elements of Greek life recruitment were not the primary reason for the outbreak, though administrators acknowledged it as a contributing factor.
The Cavalier Daily obtained photographs and video showing violations of social distancing, masking and gathering guidelines by both ISC and IFC chapters. Groves also confirmed during a community town hall that five fraternities are currently under investigation for COVID-19 violations, though he has not specified whether the violations occurred during recruitment.
Since the recruitment period ended, both the ISC and IFC suspended in-person gatherings once again. The ISC will reevaluate its ban Friday while the IFC’s ban will be in place through at least the end of March. The IFC decision was made in light of “multiple incidents of blatant noncompliance and disrespect for the less restrictive rules,” according to its statement.
The PDF attached below contains the emails referenced in this reporting.