Acacia, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Zeta Beta Tau said they will not close their IU chapters after the university recommended they do so because of high spread and positivity rates of COVID-19 within the houses.
IU does not have the ability to force greek houses to close. That decision is left up to the individual greek housing corporations and national organizations.
IU’s recommendation asked greek houses to re-evaluate their living situations, stating the greek houses were unsafe. Some greek organizations' representatives such as Mike Lancioni, Delta Upsilon’s housing corporation board president, were frustrated with IU’s wording, which changed from recommending greek houses close during the Thursday press conference to asking they re-evaluate their living situations in the ensuing press release.
“Did any of this come out of the blue? No,” said Dr. Randy Shoup, the Indiana Acacia Building Corporation president. “Was it a bit of a surprise in that it was a dramatic step beyond what our conversations had been? Yes.”
The Indiana Daily Student contacted all 40 housing corporations and national organizations for IU greek houses following IU’s press conference Thursday. By Friday evening, five chapters had responded to requests for comment as well as the North American Interfraternity Conference and National Panhellenic Conference.
“Sigma Phi Epsilon house at IU will stay open at this time, as our residents depend on this housing, and the outreach we’ve received today from parents and students clearly reinforces this,” Heather Kirk, Sigma Phi Epsilon's chief communications officer, said in a statement.
Shoup said the 87.5% positivity rate is misleading of the true numbers in the house. On Monday, eight Acacia members were tested, and seven tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the 87.5% rate from Monday’s testing — the highest rate from that day. Shoup said the overall positivity rate in the house over the first two weeks of classes is 37%.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious-disease expert, said Wednesday on the Today Show sending college students home is “the worst thing you could do.” The IU Interfraternity Council referenced the same quote in its statement reacting to IU’s recommendation.
Shoup said he expected a spike in positivity rates and transmission of COVID-19 at Acacia. He said the 37% positivity rate Acacia has seen is in line with what the house anticipated. Acacia did not consider a scenario where it would not bring members back to the house this year.
Students who test positive are moved out of the house and into a hotel, where the fraternity brings meals to its members, Shoup said.
“We don’t see any logic or reason in closing the house,” Shoup said. “It makes no sense to us. It’s contradictory to what the CDC and Dr. Fauci are recommending.”
Shoup questioned IU’s testing accuracy. He referred to one student who tested negative during pre-arrival testing before being sent home after a positive on-arrival test. During his 10-day isolation, the student was tested two more times at a different location and both tests were negative.
“I think the school has a bullseye on all of greek life,” said John Birnbaum, Zeta Beta Tau housing corporation board president. “All they did was make a hectic and chaotic situation that much more hectic and chaotic.”
Birnbaum said Zeta Beta Tau will remain open because the residents have nowhere else to go. Many of the residents are not from Indiana so they cannot easily go home, he said. The leases have already been signed with the landlord and utilities in the house already paid for, he said.
Zeta Beta Tau was placed under quarantine Friday. The fraternity has had four active cases. It had a 0% positivity rate over the first week of mitigation testing, but that number jumped to 25% in Monday’s testing results.
Birnbaum said he didn’t understand why greek residents are not able to use the school’s isolation facilities set aside for on-campus residents. He also asked if the isolation facilities were full, why residence halls would not be seeing similar restrictions as greek houses.
Both Dr. Cole Beeler, IU’s director of symptomatic testing, and Dr. Aaron Carroll, IU’s director of mitigation testing, said the dorms are not seeing spread at the rate of the greek houses at this point in mitigation testing in Thursday’s press conference.
By Friday evening, 33 greek houses were directed to quarantine. The overall positivity rate across all greek houses in Monday’s testing was 20.4%. Greek organizations that commented to the IDS and IU’s Interfraternity Council have said they have been disappointed with IU’s decision. Birnbaum doesn’t expect greek houses to follow the university’s recommendation.
“They don’t have anywhere to go,” Birnbaum said. “It’s not fair to them. So no, I don’t think any house is closing.”
UPDATE: 11:16 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4
In a statement, Pi Beta Phi announced it will also remain open despite IU's recomemndation. Pi Beta Phi is the fourth greek chapter at IU to confirm it will not close.
"On Thursday, September 3, an unexpected statement was issued by Indiana University without advance notice to fraternity/sorority leaders," the statement said. "The statement mimicked an important message Pi Beta Phi has shared: all members need to carefully consider the communal nature of living in fraternity/sorority housing facilities and make responsible decisions. However, the Fraternity recognizes members rely on Pi Beta Phi for safe and secure housing that enables them to be fully engaged in their academic studies on campus. At this time, it is the intention of the Indiana Beta Chapter House Corporation and Pi Beta Phi to fulfill our commitment to providing housing to those members who choose to remain in the chapter facility."