CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa Greek chapters sanctioned, investigated for COVID-19 violations

Iowa State suspends nine students for 'serious' social gatherings infractions

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top l
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — Four University of Iowa sororities have been sanctioned for violating COVID-19 student agreements by — for example — failing to cover faces and socially distance during gatherings, requiring the groups to publicly apologize, raise coronavirus awareness, and host protective-equipment drives.

Additionally, two UI fraternities are being investigated for COVID-19 infractions.

Sigma Phi Epsilon is accused of hosting gatherings at its chapter house between Aug. 15 and Aug. 30 involving guests, “including women,” who consumed alcohol and failed to uphold COVID-19 student commitments like wearing face coverings and socially distancing.

The UI Phi Gamma Delta chapter is accused of hosting a gathering Sept. 3 that broke COVID-19 commitments “related to face coverings and failing to appropriately social distance.”

Three UI Greek chapters so far this semester — which began Aug. 24 — were investigated for COVID-19 violations but found either not responsible or to have committed infractions that didn’t necessitate sanctions.

“While the allegations made against Kappa Kappa Gamma were serious, the information provided does not rise to the level necessary for the Office of Student Accountability to issue an interim suspension,” according to a Sept. 9 letter the UI office sent to the sorority, which was provided to The Gazette following a public records request.

The affirmed sorority violations involved events during “primary recruitment” — which occurred over the Sept. 4-7 and Sept. 11-13 weekends and were supposed to “all take place virtually in order to ensure the health and safety of all members,” according to the UI Panhellenic Council website.

‘Our biggest challenges’

Although the UI letters advising of alleged sanctions didn’t outline specific violations or spell out offending events, some of the sanctioned chapters in recent weeks posted on social media pictures of women hugging and posing shoulder-to-shoulder in groups without masks.

UI’s Pi Beta Phi sorority, found responsible for failing to follow COVID-19 mandates during “primary recruitment,” on Sept. 5 posted a picture showing 18 women huddled together at a local baseball diamond with the caption, “Hitting off the weekend right.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The UI Delta Gamma chapter, also sanctioned for COVID-19 violations during recruitment, on Sept. 2 posted photos on Instagram of students mingling and posing together without masks.

UI Vice President for Student Life Sarah Hansen on Thursday told the Board of Regents much of the campus’ COVID-19 spread — among the worst in the country, with more than 1,800 campus positives as of Monday — has come from off-campus infractions.

“Our transmission has not been in the classroom. It actually hasn’t even been in the residence halls,” she said. “Most of our cases are off campus. They’re in congregate apartments. They’re coming from downtown socializing. And they’re from fraternity and sorority houses.

“That’s kind of been one of our biggest challenges, and we’ll continue to push for students understanding the behavioral expectations,” she said. “But that environment is a real challenge for us.”

The four sanctioned sororities — Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta, and Pi Beta Phi — were ordered to complete a list of actions, as part of their rebuke. The actions included posting an apology on all social media platforms, co-sponsoring a multi-chapter campaign on COVID-19 awareness, and undertaking a personal protective equipment drive for a local organization.

The apology messages were supposed to be posted before recruitment — “with a hard deadline of Sept. 17” — and, as of 5 p.m. Thursday, Delta Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta, and Pi Beta Phi had posted them.

In the Pi Beta Phi social media message, leaders apologized for “failing to follow social distancing guidelines in a recent photo.”

“We accept full responsibility for those who chose to engage in behaviors that fall short of protecting our community from the spread of COVID-19,” according to the post. “Our missteps are inexcusable, but from here we plan to come together as a chapter and learn to navigate a safe year on campus.”

‘Moved to a virtual format’

On Aug. 27 — just three days after the start of classes and following a weekend of students seen packing downtown bars without masks or distancing — UI Dean of Students Angie Reams issued updated guidance for registered student organizations, which previously allowed some flexibility in events and activities.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“Programs, events, or meetings with 50 or fewer attendees may be held in person as long as university guidance is followed, particularly regarding social distancing and face coverings,” according to the universities fall return plan.

Under the revised student org guidance, “all student engagement efforts and registered student organization activities will be moved to a virtual format.” The mandate applies to both on- and off-campus activities, according to Reams.

“Due to the increased spread of COVID-19 within the Iowa City community, it has become imperative to set stricter guidelines for social distancing for public health,” she wrote in her message. “Therefore, participation in any in-person event, program, or social gathering at an off-campus location that includes ten or more people and does not follow the requirements set forth in the Governor’s 08/21 proclamation will be considered a violation of the Code of Student Life.”

“These gatherings, when reported to the university, may result in disciplinary action consistent with the risky nature of the behavior.”

Nine ISU suspensions

On an individual level, UI officials have warned students who rack up COVID-19 violations could be subject to “severe sanctions, such as housing contract cancellation or suspension.”

UI officials last week reported receiving hundreds of COVID-19 complaints so far this semester — including 109 social distancing infractions, 106 allegations of face-covering violations, 35 accusations of guest policy missteps, and six reports of students failing to comply with isolation or quarantine orders.

Dozens have been reprimanded, although not all the complaints have been confirmed — with many still pending review.

Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa also have fielded campus complaints about COVID-19 violations.

Iowa State officials told The Gazette, “Several students have been referred to Iowa State’s Dean of Students Office for serious violations of the new social gatherings policy.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Nine have received interim suspensions — although ISU didn’t elaborate, citing “federal privacy laws.”

UNI students also have been referred to the student conduct process for “failing to uphold the Student Commitment and Acknowledgment of Risk, which includes expectations related to wearing a face covering and physical distancing.”

“The majority of cases have resulted from students forgetting to wear a face covering and have resulted in a warning,” according to UNI spokesman Steve Schmadeke. “Repeated behavior of this nature would escalate outcomes, but we’ve not seen a need for those steps at this time.

“At this time no students have been suspended as a result of this process.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please subscribe. Your subscription will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please subscribe. Your subscription will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.