With fears of the Omicron variant still looming large, the University’s shift to online instruction coincides with an enduring tradition of the early weeks of spring: recruitment season for sorority and fraternity hopefuls.
According to the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life, almost a third of Cornell’s student body belongs to a Greek organization on campus. During the pre-pandemic era, students hoping to join a sorority or fraternity journeyed from house to house in the frigid Ithaca winter to attend recruitment events.
But with the pandemic once again forcing all in-person events to halt, potential new members hoping to join now face a semester of virtual recruitment. With the University’s recent mandate to move all in-person activities and events online, sorority and fraternity recruitment events have been forced to follow suit.
When the University announced the restriction on in-person events, Kara Miller McCarty, Robert G. Engel Director of Sorority & Fraternity Life, coordinated with Cornell sororities and fraternities to help them switch to virtual recruitment. McCarthy told the Sun that although sudden, there is an established sense of familiarity and flexibility to this process, thanks to last year’s virtual recruitment.
“It is certainly unique to experience a recruitment process online, however since the pandemic has been ongoing since March 2020, there is more familiarity with online or remote interaction,” wrote McCarthy in an email to The Sun. “One benefit to virtual recruitment is that students can participate regardless of when they come back to campus.”
For some Cornellians, however, the switch to virtual recruitment proved to be a disappointment. Julia Salatti ’25, a freshman student who hoped to join a sorority this semester, ultimately decided not to continue when faced with the prospect of recruiting over Zoom.
“I changed my mind like a week before,” said Salatti. “ I felt like it’s harder to make a connection and figure out which one you want to join. How am I going to be able to fairly judge if they’re the people I want to hang out with for the rest of college if I’m only seeing them virtually?”
Similarly, the current members of sororities and fraternities voiced their frustrations with another year of virtual formal recruitments. Takashi Yuasa ’22, Social Chair at Pi Delta Psi fraternity noted that it is much more challenging to understand a full picture of PNMs online.
“It’s definitely difficult to try to socialize for everyone, because it’s obviously just looking at screens. As a Social Chair, I found it difficult to get the body language and perception of PNMs,” said Yuasa. “It’s very difficult to navigate and make a very interactive and fun event virtually.”
Despite these concerns, many students noted benefits in recruiting from home.
Mikayla Kibel ’22 recruited for and joined Alpha Chi Omega in the spring of 2020, before the initial COVID shutdown. Now participating as a recruiter, Kibel told the Sun that virtual recruitment adds ease and convenience to the otherwise strenuous process.
“I think it might be a little easier for them to go through recruitment, because this year they don’t have to walk in the snow and the cold through all the houses,” said Kibel. “You can kind of just sit in the comfort of your own home in sweatpants and get to meet people that way.”
Yuasa also highlighted the convenience prospective members now have at their fingertips. He told the Sun that instead of having to choose one event to attend for the entire night, virtual recruitment allows PNMs to jump back and forth between different Zoom calls.
“The clothing doesn’t matter as much,” observed Annie Stewart ’25, who took part in virtual sorority recruitment events this spring. “There’s not as many indicators of wealth.”
Fraternities and sororities have made significant efforts to adapt the recruitment process to the new normal. Kibel’s sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, found new opportunities to showcase their chapter’s personality.
“We had one of the members of our chapter kind of take everyone on a tour virtually through the house,” Kibel said. “When we were in person, you were just on the ground floor, so I thought the video aspect was really personal and nice.”
McCarthy told the Sun that the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life is hopeful for future in-person activities and events to promote further interactions between the new and existing members.
“We are also hopeful that once COVID conditions on campus allow for more in-person activity,” said McCarthy, “there will be the opportunity for personal and in person interactions and events between new members and members.”
Many Cornellians expressed optimism about the switch, despite the challenges it presented. .
“Bonding looks different,” said Kibel. “But it’s still just as rewarding.”