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'It’s a constant worry for me:' Phi Kappa Tau voices concerns on IU's recommendation to close due to COVID-19



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Phi Kappa Tau's house is seen Thursday on Third Street. The fraternity is one of a few greek houses that haven’t been quarantined due to a coronavirus outbreak. Ally Melnik

After three-fourths of greek houses were directed to quarantine by the Monroe County Health Department during the last week, IU recommended Thursday all 40 houses close. The president of Phi Kappa Tau, a house that has not been quarantined, said IU’s policy is unfair to their fraternity. 

“We have 53 live-in members,” Max Williams, IU’s Phi Kappa Tau chapter president, said. “No positive cases. No close contacts either.” 

IU’s dashboard for greek housing verifies there are zero positive cases in the fraternity’s house. The announcement from IU was directed at all fraternities and sororities— a blanket recommendation that all 40 greek houses close

Phi Kappa Tau was never put under a quarantine order, and they are one of only who else greek organizations that have not reported any positive COVID-19 cases since Aug. 19. Should they have to move out of their house, the university said it will help relocated students, but will not move greek residents into dorms. 

Some greek houses have positivity rates higher than 50%, the highest of which being Acacia at 87.5%. David Pechi, vice president of IU’s chapter of Phi Kappa Tau, said he believes it’s unfair his fraternity is being told to close when they have no positive cases. 

“It’s just not a good idea to have these blanket policies which target all greek houses when there are houses that have 85% positive cases and we have zero,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

Pechi said he’s concerned about the rest of this semester.

“First and foremost, I am here to learn,” Pechi said. “I am here to get a degree. I have in-person classes, and I’m only able to do that because I’m right next campus.”

Living in a greek house is also very expensive for members, and this decision from IU could have serious financial consequences on students. 

“A concern for everybody is if we get kicked out, there’s obviously the possibility that we won’t get our rent back because we paid it all up front,” Williams said. “It was $7,000 up front. There’s no guarantee we get that back. We got kicked out of the house last semester, and I didn’t get any money back.” 

If members were to have to find other housing for the remainder of the semester, it could be a huge financial burden that not every student can bear, Pechi said. 

“I took out a pretty hefty loan this year to be able to live in and to be able to pay tuition,” Pechi said. “I’m not from the kind of background where I can just ask my parents to sign another lease for me. It’s a constant worry for me that I won’t be able to finish this semester.”

IU doesn’t have the direct authority to close greek houses. That decision lies in the hands of the Monroe County Health Department and individual chapters. The university however, has released a list of next steps for those living in greek housing. 

The IU chapter of Phi Kappa Tau does not plan on closing its house until directed or until it has a confirmed positive case. 

“As of right now we do not plan on closing the house,” Williams said. “We will not be considering these recommendations at all until we have a positive case.”

The IU Interfraternity Council released a statement opposing the university’s action. 

“The University has impacted the academic situation of our members by jeopardizing their relationships with professors by telling a story of half-truths to demonize the Greek community,” the statement said. “The reality is IFC fraternities have done everything asked of them by the university and the Monroe County Health Department.” 

The North American Interfraternity Council, a trade association that backs campus interfraternity councils, also released a statement opposing the action. 

“Facilities should remain open with quarantine protocols in place to isolate members within chapter houses to minimize further coronavirus exposure,” Todd Shelton, the organization’s chief communications officer, said in a statement. “As Dr. Anthony Fauci discussed just yesterday, we believe it is wrong to move students from their current quarantined locations and risk spreading infection to different places in the community.”

IU spokesperson Chuck Carney clarified IU's statement is not a request for houses to close, but a recommendation for re-evaluation due to the rise in positive tests in greek houses.

"What we said is that in many of these environments, where close contact is unavoidable, living there is not safe," Carney said. "But each house and its leadership will have to determine a decision for themselves and make the best choice for their members, given that the houses are privately owned and operated by their own housing corporations."

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