Fraternities and Sororities forced to be creative with new member education amid COVID


Courtesy of Mari Kuwabara-Wagg

Emma Krug (Active), Rhiannon Melton (new members), Nicole Watkins (Active), Allie Thompson (Active)

By Mariyam Quaisar, Managing Editor

With the daunting effects of the pandemic, new member education for fraternities and sororities has been a challenge, to say the least. With all events hosted virtually, leaders of Emerson’s Fraternity-Sorority Life are working hard to keep festivities engaging as they welcome new member classes. 

Emerson is home to nine fraternities and sororities, some of which did not take a new member class during Fall 2020. Senior Clarah Grossman, President of Sigma Pi Theta, said going completely online can create challenges for new members who are trying to see if they fit into the sorority. 

“We took the fall semester off and didn’t do any new member education,” Grossman said. “We still went through with recruitment and had virtual events. We did an extended recruitment actually where people who were interested in further getting to know us could. We had zoom events throughout the rest of the semester for them to come to which turned out to be really good for us.”

FSL organizations completed their recruitment week, a week dedicated to recruiting potential new members, virtually in mid-February. Now, they are finishing out their virtual new member education, a weeks-long process in which new members are inducted into the organization as active members.

Grossman went on to say that the extended recruitment prepared Sigma for this semester, as they completed the recruitment process online and are now doing new member education virtually as well. 

“So far it seems to be going pretty well,” Grossman said. “We have nine new members, which is amazing, especially with the pandemic and with everything being virtual. Considering that last semester when everything went online, we only had three new members so then bumping it up to nine while still being online was really great.”

In order to appeal to potential new members, fraternities and sororities took advantage of various social media platforms. Co-new member chair, website chair, and alumni chair of Xi Gamma Nu, Mari Kuwabara-Wagg, said they used social media to help guide potential members into FSL. 

“We tend to use our socials a lot, on our website, which we used a lot this semester, we’ve created potential new member guides to help people kind of feel like they know how to go through recruitment,” Kuwabara-Wagg said. “[The guides have] everything they need to know including stuff they have to do with Emerson before coming to us and stuff they need to know when coming to us to try to make their lives easier when we know there’s a lot of stuff happening and things are very different.”

Vice President of recruitment for Alpha Epsilon Phi, Brianne Guanaga, said they used digital marketing to put their name out there and continue to update potential members on the happenings of the sorority. Grossman said using Instagram for potential new members to ask active members questions was a huge hit as well. 

Guanaga said one of the biggest challenges of virtual new member education is understanding the logistics of platforms like Zoom. 

“Obviously we’re all pretty used to Zoom, but like I needed to do the breakout rooms and do it very specifically and everyone was patient, but there were times where I felt like I was unprofessional because it looked like I was struggling,” Guanaga said. 

Making sure potential new members (PNMs) are comfortable on Zoom is another important aspect of the new member education process. One of the big differences between using Zoom versus being in-person is not being able to talk at the same time, and being comfortable to speak up in a group of people you don’t know. 

“I think my biggest thing was fearing that the PNM would be anxious, or uncomfortable in these breakout rooms,” Guanaga said. “Obviously, all the sisters know each other, we’re all friends, and when that happens, we dominate the conversation, so I think my biggest challenge was trying to instill that this isn’t about us, this is about the PNM.”

Switching to virtual events meant translating in-person bonding activities to activities that could be done in breakout rooms through a screen. Grossman said icebreaker activities were the most difficult to adapt to the online format, but the rest of the transition to online was easier once those events were changed.

“We usually have a craft philanthropy night, which we weren’t able to have so instead we watched a movie which was really fun,” Grossman said. “Most of the events, I personally felt like there wasn’t a super big disconnect because we were still getting to know the new members. We had our speed dating event, we had a trivia event and those translated really well into breakout rooms.” 

A huge aspect of sorority and fraternity life is Big-Little Reveal, where active members are paired with new members to act as a big sister or brother, essentially a mentor to the new members. Even with the difficulties of being virtual, the groups found creative ways to make it special regardless. 

“We put all of the new members in a breakout room for about five minutes and we gave them an assignment to figure out and while they did that, all of the active members who were not Bigs changed their profile picture on Zoom to the Sigma emblem,” Grossman said. “Then all of the Bigs changed their profile picture to a picture of their Little and wrote in ‘so and so’s Big’. I think it went really, really well. Everyone seemed very excited about it.”

According to members from various FSL organizations, new member education lasts about six to eight weeks depending on the organization, consisting of virtual meetings and bonding activities for the new member class. 

“We want new member [education] to be an opportunity for our new members to feel comfortable and feel like they can get to know everyone,” Kuwabara-Wagg said. “It’s all based on bonding and getting to know one another and we utilize breakout rooms for online games. The first two days are more informational, but the rest of it is really a time to have some fun and for us to get to know [each other] more on a personal level.”

Without COVID, new member education consisted of members attending in person meetings, playing games, and participating in activities. 

“[In the past] we’ve done cute little games,” Grossman said. “There’s this one we do where a Big and Little sit back to back and one of them describes a picture and the other draws it. We do a lot of stuff in meetings, like trust falls and bonding activities that we had to cut this semester, because they were specifically physical contact things.” 

Despite such setbacks, fraternities and sororities came up with new activities to accommodate the pandemic and safety precautions. Xi Gamma Nu encourages its members to participate in “Gamma Gal Dates,” where sisters can get together one-on-one to get to know each other. If students are comfortable with in-person dates, they are allowed to meet, otherwise they bond virtually. 

Adapting to COVID-19 has been an obstacle for many clubs and groups who have persevered through the pandemic. Fraternities and sororities took advantage of virtual new member education, coming up with alternate activities to allow the growth of their groups and welcoming of new members. 

“I knew I always wanted to be VP of recruitment,” Guanaga said. “It’s honestly one of the most rewarding positions in the sorority because you get to bring new people to our little safe haven. Obviously it’s super stressful, especially during COVID because you put a lot of weight on yourself but I wouldn’t want to be in any other position.”