Housing Services and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs notified Greek life students on June 24 that housing assignments would be modified in response to COVID-19 guidelines, displacing many students this upcoming school year.
The message posted on the Lehigh Greek Community Blog was signed by Chloe Abshire, the assistant dean and director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs and Ozzie Breiner, the director of Housing Services. The blog post came after a June 10 email announcing the phased opening of campus this fall and also followed a June 12 email that asked students with plans to live on campus to fill out a survey.
According to the blog post, fraternity and sorority assignment lists are due to Housing Services on July 7, and priority will be given to the president and house manager — regardless of their class year — as well as rising second-year students.
The post also said any rising second-year student with a medical accommodation through Disability Support Services will receive that accommodation. Juniors or seniors who are displaced from their chapter houses will be guaranteed a space in Sayre Park Village or any other open on-campus housing option if they choose not to sign an off-campus lease.
Breiner said in an email that three- and four-person rooms will not be used due to the pandemic. As a result, fraternity and sorority houses will face member displacement.
“This is an unprecedented situation, and our goal was to accommodate all students on campus if at all possible in a safe manner according to their preferences,” Breiner said in the email. “I believe we have accomplished this goal. Everyone will have to be flexible as we navigate through this upcoming semester and adjust to things that are different than before they left Lehigh in March.”
Breiner said regardless of where anyone lives for the upcoming year, Housing Services is working diligently to keep all students safe and healthy when they return to campus.
The June 12 email caused significant stress for students, with many students left scrambling to sign off-campus leases, uncertain at the time of who would be allowed to remain in the Greek houses and what the alternatives were.
Alisha McDonnell, ‘22, Neena Shah, ‘22 and Helen Flynn, ‘22 are all members of Pi Beta Phi sorority and were displaced from their chapter house. The three signed leases to live off campus with some of their other friends from their sorority.
Flynn said since rising sophomores were guaranteed to live in the house, there was room for only 10 juniors in order to not exceed capacity.
McDonnell said about 15 rising juniors in the sorority have signed off-campus leases.
“It was definitely a stressful process finding a house because a lot of juniors are in the same position as me,” Shah said. “It’s been stressful since the email about being displaced came out.”
Shah and McDonnell said they, as well as the other Pi Beta Phi juniors, signed an off-campus lease right before the school announced that anyone displaced from chapter houses could live in Sayre.
She said she called Housing Services about six times with no answer and was frustrated that they weren’t responding about a pressing issue.
“Housing (Services) wasn’t being super helpful with the situation, and they were pushing us to sign,” Flynn said. “You had to talk to your parents about it. It was a lot in three days.”
They all said living outside of the Pi Beta Phi house will be an adjustment, but living with their friends rather than random roommates will help make it feel more like home.
The three students want to decorate their new rooms the same way they would as if they were living in the sorority house. Shah said she and the rest of her roommates are going to try and make the outdoor area as nice as possible and try and make it feel more like the Pi Beta Phi house.
They all plan to start cooking their own meals, since they may not be able to always eat the food prepared by their chef at the chapter house depending on the restrictions of non-residents being able to enter the Greek house.
Emily Cooper, ‘22, planned on living in a triple in the Alpha Phi house before Lehigh said it couldn’t guarantee everyone would be able to live there. She said she is now living in an off-campus house on Taylor Street with four of her other friends, and a total of nine rising juniors are living elsewhere.
Cooper said while she understands that the school had to take these actions for safety purposes, it’s upsetting that her pledge class is going to be split up for the upcoming year.
She said her and her roommates still plan to go up to the house for meals depending on the rules for individuals coming and going from the house, but they won’t be on the house meal plan and will start to cook their own meals.
“We’re trying to make the best of it, and we’re excited to cook together and have meals as a group,” Cooper said.
Even though classes don’t start until Aug. 24, they are all anticipating an unusual and different Greek life experience, since not everyone that was supposed to live in the house will be able to.
“I think it’s going to be a lot different because I expected to live in the house junior year,” McDonnell said. “It won’t be the same not seeing everyone in my hall and eating meals with them.”
Flynn said she and a few other sisters have considered resigning from the sorority because they don’t want to pay the expensive dues without the benefit of living in the house. They believe they won’t have the same experience and won’t be able to get as close with the new members, she said.
Shah said she doesn’t think philanthropy or large social gatherings will happen because of the virus.
“If they can’t have 50 people live in a house together, then I don’t think they will let us congregate with one another,” Shah said.
Cooper said a big part of living in the house was the sophomores and juniors bonding with each other, and it will be different not waking up and seeing everyone’s face in the house.
“We still plan on going up to the house and inviting other people over while enforcing social distancing,” Cooper said.