Each year hundreds and thousands of students from across the globe are returning to their collegiate experience. While this process has looked a little different over the past year and half, fall always brings times of anticipation, excitement, and the opportunity for new beginnings. This fall, students have been looking forward to experiencing things they may not have been able to take part in over the past year. In the spring semester many students returned to campuses but still experienced social distancing guidelines for their safety and the safety of those in their community. This fall semester is the most anticipated return to “normal” campus life that students have been waiting for all summer. With Delta Covid-19 virus and other variants looming, the mental health and overall safety of students is at risk.
We have seen students miss out on their collegiate experiences and now, as they are returning to campus amid the Delta COVID-19 variant, they are mentally exhausted. According to Inside Higher Ed, “53 percent of first-year students reported a substantial increase in mental and emotional exhaustion. While 30 percent of students surveyed reported increased depression, 27 percent said they experienced greater loneliness and 20 percent felt more hopeless.”
What are the implications of declining mental health of students who are returning to campus this fall? Higher education professionals and researchers have come together to study potential implications and found there are four unexpected post-pandemic potential risks trends and implications. According to CEO and Managing Partner for Dyad Strategies, Dr. Gentry McCreary, research found these four trends were unforeseen and could have long-term implications on fraternity/sorority life and higher education. Dyad conducted a research study from 2016–2021 with 12 fraternities and five sororities at over 400 campuses. On average, the study had a 40–80% completion rate. They chose to specifically look at data found from fall 2020 to spring 2021 to conduct these potential implications.
Four unexpected post-pandemic potential risks trends and implications:
TREND ONE: BINGE DRINKING
The first trend is that binge drinking is on the rise specifically with fraternity men. Prior to 2020, binge drinking had been on the decline, and Gen Z students tend to drink less than previous generations. However, Dyad’s research showed a significant increase for binge drinking in fall 2020 with a continued rise through spring 2021.
ADDRESSING BINGE DRINKING
• How are we creating safe spaces and opportunities for support, education and recovery from alcohol and drug dependency within our organizations?
• Are we creating comfortable spaces for open, honest conversation about dependency and recovery?
• How can we create this space? What campus resources are available to help create these spaces?
TREND TWO: “ALWAYS JOINERS”
The second trend showed a significant increase in “always joiners.” This means the data displayed a significant increase in those who knew they wanted to join a fraternity or sorority before they even began school. The largest spike was seen with mid-size regional campuses and small private campuses, while larger campuses remained stagnant.
The most important implication from this trend is that less students who do not already know about Greek life prior to coming to campus are joining Fraternities and Sororities. This means that it will be more difficult to encourage students who do not have background knowledge or interest in Greek life to sign up for recruitment or join an organization.
UNDERSTANDING “ALWAYS JOINERS”
• We could see an influx of upperclassmen going through recruitment who did not join due to the pandemic.
• There could be a spike in maybe or never joiners. How will we create a welcoming environment for those who do not know if they want to join a fraternity or a sorority prior to being on campus?
• How do Diversity Equity & Inclusion conversations overlap with conversations about the recruitment structure?
TREND THREE: HAZING
The third trend displayed a spike in social dominance hazing motivation. Dyad’s data shared that both fraternity and sorority members showed an increase in the importance of creating social hierarchy and power over new members, specifically during the new member period. One theory is that due to shutdowns, members were not able to gather in large groups to host events and create cultural norms, causing more motivation to get back to “normal.”
• It is important to break the cycle of showing social dominance early.
• Address the power differential. Identify and educate about power and social dominance.
• Moral Foundations Theory
TREND FOUR: SOCIAL STATUS
The fourth and final trend discussed a spike in the importance of social status for a student’s chapter or organization. The data showed that members care significantly more about and place more importance on their chapter’s campus hierarchy. This has normally been more common among sorority women, but the largest spike in this measure was from fraternity men throughout the 2020–2021 school year.
Social Dominance Theory can be seen within both trend three and four. According to Study.com, Social Dominance Theory is a way to explain how, and why, social structures seemed to be supported by an unspoken hierarchy of groups based on a number of different traits. These multiple hierarchies may be based on gender, race, age, economic status, and other characteristics – either naturally recurring or obtained. To learn more, click here.
These trends cause concern for returning to campus this fall and for the long-term health of fraternity/sorority life and higher education. The coronavirus pandemic is a clear catalyst for these trends, and now that collegiate members are returning to campuses across the country, these trends foreshadow some important risk areas for all higher education organizations to understand.
RECOGNIZING SOCIAL STATUS
• Examine systems and structures that promote social tier systems such as recruitment and housing. Are there others?
For more conversation about these trends check out Dyad’s Whitepaper and podcast here.
So, how can volunteers, advisers, campus-based professionals, professional staff and collegiate officers support the health and wellness of students along with creating a safe return to campus?
The best thing is to be prepared. This sounds like common sense, but it is more important than ever before to understand your resources, know what signs to watch for and have open and honest conversation about expectations. According to the Director of Educational Initiatives at Holmes Murphy & Associates and Speaker & Trainer for The Catalyst Agency Lori Hart, Delta Delta (Auburn U), “As my son is finishing his Eagle Scout during a pandemic, I often find myself repeating the Eagle Scout pledge to “Be Prepared” to him (and frankly, to myself these days). Since 1907, this has been the motto of the Scouts and I think it is a fitting motto as we enter fall semester (in the midst of a Delta variant and vaccine boosters). I keep hearing people say, ‘chapters won’t know how to host a social event’ and I keep thinking ‘chapters won’t know how to do ritual.’ We are literally starting over, and we must help our chapters be prepared in all areas. The flip side is we can see this as an opportunity to get rid of ‘traditions’ that maybe weren’t so healthy. No longer can we say, ‘we’ve always done it that way.’ Instead of panicking, utilize your resources, utilize your strengths, and CREATE a chapter that you can be proud of.”
This is not the time to return to “normal” but instead, it is a time to determine the things that work well and move away from negative traditions that do not benefit chapters or members alike.
AOII Chapters have the opportunity to evaluate events, education, and chapter traditions and make necessary changes to create exceptional membership experiences. To support collegiate chapters with making these changes, we asked Lori to share the top three areas of risk-prevention to focus on for a safe and productive return to campus this fall.
Three areas of risk-prevention to understand for the fall semester:
During the pandemic, students operated ‘unofficially; and behavior didn’t change.
“I work for Holmes Murphy Fraternal Practice. We are the insurance provider that facilitates insurance for AOII (and the bonus is I am also a member). We work with 90+ fraternal clients that range from local organizations to all of the umbrella (e.g., NALFO, NAPA, NIC, NMCG, NPC). In March 2020 when universities were going online and many students were returning to homes, we received a lot of calls inquiring about a reduction in insurance premiums. I remember scratching my head at that time and wondering if student behavior would change. I wondered if claims would change. The answer is they didn’t.
During the 2020-2021 school year, there were 116 reported claims that could potentially lead to litigation. The types of claims were consistent from previous years. The reason for the claims was also consistent: sexual assault, hazing, assault and battery, fall from heights. Alcohol is always at the undercurrent or claims. Ninety to 95% of claims involve alcohol. During the pandemic, the world was told to stay home. Universities responded by saying no events. No registered events. This meant no gatherings. The reality is this meant that many members just gathered ‘unofficially’. Members simply operating in an underground capacity which is not going to be sustainable as universities – at the time of publication – appear to be allowing groups to gather again. My thought moving into fall is that officers are going to have to bring home the ‘troops’. Educate. Communicate plans. Think through prevention. Do the work.”
Advisers and volunteers matter.
“Holmes Murphy also saw an increase in property and water loss claims. A high percentage of these were preventable. In thinking through the ‘why,’ I have to believe part of this increase was because our volunteers stayed home (as they should have). We no longer had advisors attending weekly meetings or House Corporations doing walk throughs. And this says to me, we NEED volunteers. They provide stability. They see problems before it’s a claim. So, when it is safe, I hope to see the volunteers back attending meetings, in the facilities, and helping our chapters grow.”
Complex problems always have a have a simple solution.
“COVID-19 has mutated…it is adapting to survive. It is complex. The human race seems to be at war with the virus and, frankly, we are losing. It is that simple. I have spent decades working with college students on the complex problems and the simple solutions that often are right in front of us. Covid-19 is a complex public health issue with a simple solution that has become quite divisive in this country. Get vaccinated. Wear a mask. Quarantine if you are exposed. Social distance. We need chapters – in a non-divisive way – to set up environments that promote these things without judgment or attacking one another.”
What are we doing and what can we do to help?
To begin this conversation with collegiate chapters, AOII held a mandatory Social Event Training for specific officers and advisers of all AOII collegiate chapters. Within this training, Lori, along with AOII’s Assistant Executive Director Jackie Petrucci, Omega Upsilon (Ohio U), and Director of Collegiate Experience Bailey Read, Rho Omicron (Middle Tennessee State U), discussed AOII’s risk management policies and resources, as well as the return to campus this fall, including how to be prepared with a prevention lens. At the beginning of the training, Lori shared four important points to help students and advisers alike to be ready for this fall.
She shared to be prepared as we have already discussed throughout this article. That officers must focus on what they can control, “I do not live in the land that leadership is about control. Leadership is about leading, and we will desperately need leadership this fall,” Lori shared. The third item was that environment matters which means that students react and behave based on the situations they are a part of. “Environment impacts our behaviors,” Lori discussed. Her last point was how to really fix a problem. Advisers and officers cannot fix the problems of the world; however, we can create a safe space to share perspectives, feelings and activities that benefit members.
Lori provided an example of if the chapter is discussing a party in their group chat, it is important for officers to create an opportunity for a different environment, such as inviting sisters to have dinner together, movie night or other events that all members can be invited to within the group chat. The full training can be reviewed on Fulfilling the Promise and we encourage each officer and adviser to review.
As we move further into the fall semester, it is up to each member, officer, adviser, volunteer, professional staff and campus-based professionals to work together to implement these opportunities and steps within each chapter to create safe and productive collegiate experiences for all students.