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College Policies & Greek Life During COVID-19

Greek life on college campuses will be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, college and university policies concerning COVID-19 safety measures are likely to be implemented, and the implementation of those policies will affect the ways in which Greek systems operate. For many fraternities and sororities (and the students within them), the ability for colleges and universities to enforce policies that restrict certain activities that are common to Greek life will depend in part on whether those fraternities or sororities are located on-campus or off-campus. In addition, the ability for a college or university to enforce such policies will depend in part on whether the institution is public or private (public institutions must consider due process concerns for students in ways that private institutions may not need to).

Ultimately, college may be able to regulate behavior at fraternities and sororities, but it will depend on a number of factors. The following are some issues to take into consideration when you are thinking about college policies and Greek life during COVID-19.

Fraternities and Sororities Have Been Sites of Coronavirus Spread

Recent articles in The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education report that fraternities and sororities, and other gatherings tied to Greek life or Greek systems, have been responsible for certain rises in COVID-19 rates on some college campuses. For example, as the article in The Chronicle points out, “at least 136 students living in fraternity houses tested positive for COVID-19” at the University of Washington, which led university administrators to work more closely with the Interfraternity Council “to encourage mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distances.”

Similarly, fraternity rush parties at the University of Mississippi “were blamed for most of the institution’s 162 confirmed COVID-19 cases.” The positive tests tied to those fraternity rush parties led the university’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life to warn Greek organizations that they would “face social probation—a lesser sanction that bars organizations from hosting events—if they were caught throwing parties.” The University of Mississippi has banned fraternities from hosting social events involving alcohol during the fall semester.

Is the Fraternity or Sorority On-Campus or Off-Campus?

When it comes to enforcement of new pandemic safety policies and bans on campus gatherings, one of the major issues pertaining to enforcement (i.e., whether a university can enforce a policy) is whether the fraternity or sorority is on-campus. Generally speaking, colleges and universities have a much easier time enforcing policies for buildings on-campus than off-campus.

For example, at the University of California-Berkeley, a spokesperson for the university emphasized that, when it comes to Greek life, the university has jurisdiction to enforce health orders on the actual campus, while the city must deal with off-campus issues. Indeed, as that spokesperson clarified, UC-Berkeley has limited authority to discipline students for behavior that takes place off-campus.

An institution’s enforcement ability also may depend upon whether the college or university is public or private, and whether the students have signed a behavioral contract or agreed implicitly to a behavioral code that prohibits actions that could lead to increased COVID-19 infections.

Practical Considerations

Practically speaking, even if a college or university can lawfully enforce a policy to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which may involve banning students from campus temporarily or moving forward with disciplinary actions, those institutions expect that they will have difficulty determining whether the rules or policies are being broken on a practical level. As one college administrator explained, the institution would need to learn about a violation, then would need to determine how it was organized and who was present, and “that’s [just] for the organized parties.” It will likely be even more difficult to take action when students violate policies designed to prevent a smaller number of students from gathering in dorm rooms or being in close contact without masks, for example.

Contact Our National Code of Conduct Lawyers

The experienced national university code of conduct attorneys at Duffy Law, LLC routinely work with students and families on college campus disciplinary measures and student rights concerns. If you have questions about student rights and responsibilities on college or universities campuses with regard to college policies in the age of COVID-19, or you want to know more about the responsibilities a college or university has toward its students and other communities members during the pandemic, an experienced national code of conduct attorney at our firm can help. We can talk with you today about how college policies can (and cannot) impact Greek life on campuses during the pandemic. Contact Duffy Law, LLC for more information.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.