More than half of Cornell’s 13 Panhellenic sororities have apologized for breaches in COVID-19 safety protocols on the final day of recruitment.
After hosting Bid Day celebrations on Feb. 28, seven sororities posted statements to Instagram on Monday and Tuesday in a public showing of accountability. Multiple chapters promised to educate new members about COVID-19 guidelines and reaffirmed that they will follow public health recommendations, responding to the day’s violations.
According to Sarah Barrena ’21, outgoing vice president of recruitment for Panhel, sorority recruitment regulations were clear for individual chapters. All recruitment events were supposed to be online, except for allowing new members to pick up bags of merchandise from sorority houses on Feb. 28.
The celebration to welcome each new member class was expected to unfold in small groups and in shifts, followed by a virtual celebration, Barrena said. According to chapters’ Instagram apologies, however, not everything about Bid Day went according to plan.
The first sorority to post an apology was Alpha Phi, writing that the chapter apologizes for failing to enforce their plan to distance sorority sisters.
“We had a detailed plan with rules and expectations set forth for our members and we are thoroughly disappointed in ourselves and sincerely apologetic,” the statement read.
Kappa Kappa Gamma soon followed, writing that they “formally and viscerally” apologize for violating COVID-19 rules, putting both their chapter and greater community at risk. Kappa Delta and Pi Beta Phi both promised that their chapters will begin new member training with a review of the Cornell Student Behavioral Compact and a training on New York State COVID-19 guidelines. Delta Delta Delta apologized for any grievances they had caused, promising to create a clear plan for the future if the chapter violates COVID-19 guidelines.
On Tuesday morning, Alpha Chi Omega and Alpha Epsilon Phi followed suit: Alpha Epsilon Phi said their chapter understands and supports Cornell’s COVID-19 guidelines, and Alpha Chi Omega took responsibility for the actions of Panhel as a whole, but said their chapter values COVID-19 safety.
“We apologize that it appeared as though we took COVID-19 regulations lightly, but we can assure you that we worked hard to both plan, and enforce a safe Bid Day event,” Alpha Chi Omega wrote.
Kappa Alpha Theta similarly also posted a 24-hour temporary Instagram story describing how they’re “staying safe during COVID-19,” promising self-education, masking protocols and continuing surveillance tests — without an apology or assertion of wrongdoing.
According to John Carberry, senior director of media relations, students who don’t follow the behavioral compact are referred to the Cornell Compact Compliance Team, and may also be referred to the Office of the Judicial Administrator. In addition, the Sorority and Fraternity Judicial System will respond to allegations of policy violations.
“As we learn the impact of missteps taken on Bid Day, which understandably may reach beyond the sorority community, we will respond with responsibility and care,” Pi Beta Phi chapter president Lauren Espinal ’22 wrote in an email to The Sun after the chapter’s Instagram apology.
Despite missteps on Bid Day, the rest of the recruitment process went smoothly for some of the chapters.
According to Jenna Downey ’22, the outgoing membership vice president for Alpha Xi Delta, Zoom recruitment went smoothly for her chapter, with only a few technical difficulties along the way. Alpha Xi Delta was not one of the sororities that has made an Instagram apology post so far.
According to Downey, virtual recruitment still helped potential new members form relationships with sisters.
“I think virtual recruitment, even if it was over Zoom, it definitely led to a lot of new friendships forming,” Downey said. “That was something that I wasn’t sure was going to be replicated as it had been in-person recruitment.”
Round one of the recruitment process involved potential new members making introductory videos of themselves and watching videos the sororities had made. Potential new members ranked their initial sorority preferences based on these videos, while the sororities choose who to speak with in later rounds.
“I really feel that the virtual recruitment process gave a lot more room for superficiality,” said Victoria Correa ’23, a new member of Phi Mu. “You’re not judging the potential new member based on the conversation. You’re judging her based on how she presents herself on video.”
Being judged off a pre-recorded video — where potential new members answered questions about why they wanted to join a sorority and what values mattered to them — was frustrating, according to Correa. But recruitment got easier as time passed, she said, mentioning that she enjoyed speaking with the sorority chapters who selected her in rounds two, three and four — and eventually gave her a bid.
Correa went to the Phi Mu house on Sunday to pick up the welcome merchandise, from shirts and masks to a placard with her name on it and her bid card.
“Even though new members couldn’t stay at the house, we could go there in person and get our goody bags. I walked over to the Phi Mu house, saw the girls for the first time and then we had a Zoom meeting,” Correa said.
Some, including Correa — who has wanted to join a sorority ever since watching Legally Blonde in high school — would have rushed even without the isolation of campus life during COVID-19.
Clarification, March 9, 1:12 p.m.: This article has been shortened.