As nations around the world scramble to prepare for, endure, and recover from the novel coronavirus, fraternity chapters across America are doing the same. Our chapter at Virginia Tech found itself in a state of confusion, grief and anxiety as we realized that the goodbyes we made to our brothers before Spring Break were effectively the last time we would see each other until next August. We are especially empathetic for our seniors, having their last semester ended so abruptly, without the usual events and fanfare that celebrate the diligent work they have done to receive their diploma.
Much of the SigEp experience is rooted in face-to-face connections, and it was hard to imagine a fraternity experience where we couldn’t live side-by-side with our brothers. For decades, men of VA Kappa have studied alongside one another in Newman Library, and competed in intramurals every week in War Memorial Gym. Countless times brothers have celebrated awards, job offers, and triumphs in philanthropies with high-fives and pats on the back. When life deals one of us a cruel hand, he has always been able to find solace in the arms of a brother, as a place to vent his sorrows and dig up the resolve to keep moving forward. How can we remain connected and true to our brothers when fate has scattered us away from Blacksburg?
Our executive board and chapter advisor Abbey Rowe-Erwin held a meeting when Virginia Tech announced that they were cancelling in-person courses for the remainder of the semester. With some guidance from SigEp Headquarters, and a great deal of modification to our goals for the semester, we have come up with a plan that I am confident will allow VA Kappa to continue to fulfill its purpose of building balanced men, and being a valued partner in higher education.
A small consolation is that this crisis is happening in 2020. Technology for instantaneous video, audio and text communication is widely available and free to students. This means that while we may not be able to assemble as a chapter in the same room, the faces and voices of our entire chapter are only a few mouse clicks away! We will be using the Zoom video conferencing interface for our weekly chapter meetings, as well as any committee meetings that need to happen for the remainder of the semester.
Unfortunately, all of our plans for social, service, and philanthropic events with sororities and other campus partners have been cancelled. We have an ethical responsibility to slow the spread of the virus, and the university had put a ban on any student organization gatherings. We are exploring a way to do our Spring philanthropy – Flex Out Hunger – without a campus presence, because our contributions fill the MCEAP food pantry for the year.
Fortuitously, SigEp’s Balanced Man Program is already an online interface – the Balanced Man App. This app allows undergraduates to keep track of their progress through activities and challenges that shape them into men of sound mind, body, and character. Our Vice President of Member Development, Parker Romo, has been working hard to have his committee redesign some of these activities so that brothers can complete them from home.
SigEp HQ has been doing a fantastic job of providing opportunities for continuous development while individual chapters are disrupted. They have launched a series of ‘webinars,’ live video presentations by alumni and headquarters staff. Each week, there is one webinar on chapter operations, and one on personal development.
These are unprecedented times we are living through, with ramifications that will no doubt be felt for years to come.
The people and organizations which adapt to and overcome these obstacles will outshine all others when life returns to normal, and VA Kappa has no intention of letting a virus impede our progress on the path to being the best student organization at Virginia Tech.