The University of Washington could levy “harsher disciplinary actions” against UW’s Greek Row for a growing COVID-19 outbreak involving hundreds of students, UW officials said.
The school hasn’t yet cracked down, saying its options for controlling students’ off-campus behavior are limited, but officials are painting a clearer picture of what sanctions could be imposed, including fines and restrictions on campus involvement.
The consequences, so far, have come from within the Greek system. One fraternity is suspended and one is on probation for running afoul of rules put in place by the Interfraternity Council (IFC), a student-run body governing frats, said IFC President Erik Johnson.
Johnson wouldn’t disclose specifics, but a spreadsheet on IFC’s website shows that Sigma Chi has been suspended and Beta Theta Pi is on probation.
Between Sept. 11 and Oct. 13, the UW confirmed infections in 242 students belonging to 10 sororities and seven fraternities. It’s Greek Row’s second COVID-19 outbreak; the first began in June and infected 154 students in 15 fraternity houses.
In her annual address to the UW community on Monday, UW President Ana Mari Cauce said Greek houses flouting a moratorium on social events because of the pandemic could face harsher penalties.
“We will continue to make it clear that, if they don’t get it, and they continue to break the rules, party, that there will be harsher disciplinary actions,” Cauce said during the webcast of her speech.
UW has little recourse other than to stop recognizing a chapter. Doing so doesn’t close a house; it bans the chapter’s members from participating in university activities.
Sanctions against Greek houses mostly involve this kind of loss of social privileges. But the university could take other steps, UW spokesman Victor Balta wrote in an email.
“Other sanctions may include heavy fines, or a probation period, which means they lose voting rights, including loss of voting on the rules involving sanctions, social events, guest policies, etc.,” he wrote.
No Greek organization has had its recognition pulled because of COVID-19, Balta said. But if that were to happen, the university could choose to go one step further by also pulling a chapter’s status as a Registered Student Organization. That would mean it could no longer be represented in the student senate, raise money on campus or use any UW facilities.
The fraternities at UW largely fall under the purview of the student-run IFC.
All houses part of IFC are under a “strict social moratorium, and so no chapters are permitted to hold social events at this time regardless of chapter standing,” Johnson said.
IFC’s Standards Board has found that seven chapters have accounted for 20 COVID-19 related infractions. The national headquarters for these chapters have been notified, Johnson said.
“If the chapters violate their sanctions, they will again be referred to the IFC Standards Board for further sanctioning, and if needed, further communication with the chapter’s headquarters may occur to ensure that all levied sanctions are enforced,” he said.
Greek-system housing has been reduced to half capacity in an effort to ward off outbreaks, with fraternities and sororities housing about 2,000 students.
The school’s residence halls are less populated, too, with about 4,100 students this quarter instead of the usual 10,000.
UW has been testing students off and on campus. The university worked with the Greater Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network Study, or SCAN study, and tested 1,256 Greek members between Sept. 8 and Sept. 20, before they moved into their houses, and found four positive cases.
The Husky Coronavirus Testing program, which launched Sept. 24 in collaboration with the Seattle Flu study, has tested 4,776 students on the Seattle campus with 2.1% testing positive, according to the university’s coronavirus dashboard.
UW Medicine tested 1,620 students living in residence halls between Sept. 22 and 25 and found five positive cases.
UW and local public-health officials have advised the students on safety, met with chapter presidents and had them submit COVID-19 prevention plans.
Public Health — Seattle & King County, UW’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the university’s department of Environmental Health and Safety have met regularly with chapter presidents and attended chapter house meetings to speak about outbreak prevention.
A a press conference Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee expressed frustration about behavior on UW’s Greek Row “that is exposing all of us to great risk.”
“They’ve got to step up and take responsibility for this because these things can just blow up, and frankly, they are,” he said last week.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.