Greek Life faces unexpected challenges due to pandemic


Aaron Hanania

Pledging is a foundational aspect of Augustana College’s Greek Life. It is a ceremonial tradition in which active members of a sorority or fraternity bond with new members over a four-week period. This tradition has recently been faced with adversity as a result of the global pandemic.
The tradition of Greek Life at Augustana College dates back to the early 20th century. According to Kai Swanson, special assistant to the president, students on campus back then had to quietly create Greek Life organizations due to the board’s resistance to ‘secret societies.’
“Students bent the rules and told the administration that they were going to start a tennis club. They called it the ‘Speedy Tennis Club’ because the ball was speedy, you had to run after it. But, Speedy was a way to say Sigma Pi Delta, the Speeds, which were the first group organized,” Swanson said.
Pledging has changed significantly over time, especially after the second world war. Originally before the war, pledging was an initiation process where new members had to familiarize themselves with the group’s traditions and mission statement. This was done by way of memorization, but that changed after the war.
Swanson explained that after the war, pledging became more physically abusive.
“The big change happened after WWII when the GI’s returned home. They weren’t coming to campus as 18 year olds, they were between 20 and 30. They had to go through basic training, heavy duty stuff. You start to see physical violence enter pledging in the 40’s-50’s. This is called hazing,” Swanson said.
Over the last 50 years, pledging has moved away from physical abuse. Today, Greek Life organizations must abide by extremely strict regulations. Austin Floistad, senior and pledgemaster for Alpha Sigma Xi, detailed the policies that Augustana set in place.
“We go through a whole contract that consists of different hazing policies from the school, the State of Illinois and federally. You cannot physically harm, you cannot provide servitude to the actives, you cannot do anything that someone would disagree to doing in a non-pledging situation. Anything that puts someone in a position that they don’t want to be in is something you should not be doing,” Floistad said.
Sophomore Darby Burk of Sigma Kappa Tau (KT) explained that pledging is abuse free.
“We don’t force you into anything. For the KT’s, we ask for permission before every activity we do. Everything is consensual, if you do not consent we do not do it,” Burk said.
In addition to those regulations, Augustana’s changing COVID-19guidelines have impacted the pledging process. Sage Sanders, new member educator for Zeta Phi Kappa, explained that the constant changing of COVID-19guidelines has made planning events difficult.
“The regulations and rules are changing every day leading up to and during pledging.  Everyday we are unsure of what the regulations and activities are… [and] we had to rethink the plan and we had to figure out how to make that work with the new rules,” Sanders said.
Floistad explained that his group faced the same challenges.
“It changes like every day, we are always getting new things. We started this week, pledging for all groups is Monday, Wednesday, Friday outside or virtual, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday you’re in-person on campus, that is assigned by OSL. Yesterday, they told us that all Greek groups got approved to use senior houses for pledging as long as they are outside, we can use the backyards,” Floistad said.
Groups, such as the Zeta’s, have adapted to the change by moving their sister dates entirely online. Burk explained that the KT’s also conduct virtual events.
“We have Google Meet calls where the actives without littles, or pledges who can’t go in-person or who are in quarantine, have an option to join in. The head pledge mom will set up a Zoom call so you can interact,” Burk said.
Although technology has been vital to the pledging process, it has also created communication issues. Many members of Greek Life have voiced the difficulty of communicating with administrators of the Greek Council, such as Ken Brill and Tia Fuhr, who are also facing challenges due to the changing protocols. Both Brill and Fuhr were unavailable for an interview.
Photo Above: KT’s pledge mom, Sophia Osborn, giving instructions to her pledges (anonymous) on the lower quad on March 4, 2021.