Fraternities host massive pool parties as COVID cases surge at UM

Pictured are dozens of students partying at an undisclosed location last weekend. Fraternities have been hosting various social events across Miami since the semester again, ignoring repeated messaging from the university to follow social distancing guidelines.

Despite the University of Miami’s COVID-19 protocols, Greek Life operations are in full swing. Fraternities have been hosting large parties regularly since classes began two weeks ago. The parties are filled with large numbers of maskless UM students sharing drinks, squeezing into tight spaces and acting as if social distancing guidelines don’t exist.

Fraternity parties were a common problem last semester, and some sorority members said the previous lack of consequences has led to an increased party scene this semester.

“The administration did nothing last semester. Why wouldn’t they just party more?” said a sorority member who provided recent photos, text messages and first-hand accounts of rampant partying.

Pictured are dozens of students partying at an undisclosed Greek party last weekend. Fraternities have been hosting various social events across Miami since the semester again, ignoring repeated messaging from the university to follow social distancing guidelines.
Pictured are dozens of students partying at an undisclosed location last weekend. Fraternities have been hosting various social events across Miami since the semester again, ignoring repeated messaging from the university to follow social distancing guidelines.

Last semester, administrators repeatedly said they lacked sufficient evidence of fraternity parties.

When The Miami Hurricane first reported on fraternities hosting parties in September, Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Whitely publicly dismissed the reports as “rumors” during a Student Senate meeting, according to senators present.

Multiple emails signed by Whitely, Senior Associate Dean of Students Steven Priepke, Associate Dean of Students Cristina Luna and other members of the Dean of Students Office consistently stressed the importance of abiding by UM policies, while remaining supportive of Greek Life.

“We strongly believe the real value of Greek Life adds to our campus greatly outweigh any perceived negative stereotypes. We will continue to support you and all students that are making the right decisions,” stated an email sent to the Greek Life community one day after reports of parties came out.

Whitely, Priepke and Luna all declined to comment for this article.

Actions taken last semester have proven ineffective in deterring Greek Life members from hosting and attending parties, but some members have tried to listen and speak out to no avail. One sorority member described Greek Life to be “a toxic culture,” where those who wish to abide by the policies are in the minority. They are labeled as snitches and “ostracized” from their fellow sorority sisters if they speak up.

Fearing any incriminating, leaked information, sorority leaders go to extreme measures to disguise information and fool administration. Techniques include using codes to transmit party information, sending out addresses anonymously and lying to administration about where their members have been getting COVID.

After repeated requests for an interview and being informed of evidence The Hurricane has of Greek Life repeatedly violating COVID protocols, the Dean of Students Office released the following statement:

“The University of Miami Dean of Students Office is aware of reports of off-campus gatherings that occurred over the weekend and encourages students to report concerns about unsafe behaviors to ‘Canes Care for ‘Canes. The Dean of Students Office is investigating any report it receives of students and student organizations not abiding by public health guidelines in place to keep everyone healthy.”

Although Luna stated over email that “fraternities have adjusted their events to be virtual the entire week,” text messages, photos and interviews refute this.

During the spring, fraternities undergo rush and are normally very active as they recruit new members. Newly recruited sorority members, who are chosen the week before school begins, often attend many events and parties with fraternities as they are welcomed into Greek Life. During COVID, this was supposed to be conducted mostly virtually.

“They all had in-person recruitment events,” said a sorority member who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation from others in Greek Life. Sources provided the addresses of several parties over the first week of school, including one Sigma Chi hosted at a nightclub on Jan. 28. Sig Chi was suspended last semester for hosting parties that violated social distancing guidelines.

At the time of publication of this article, the Dean of Students office incorrectly identified multiple fraternity presidents. In the days after this articles initial publication, they have identified different individuals as chapter presidents. The Hurricane has reached out to the newly identified chapter presidents for comment.

Current Sig Chi President Zachary Slogoff did not reply to comment. The former president, did not reply to a request for comment until after publication, where he stated he was no longer president and declined to comment.

On the same day, Priepke sent out an email to chapter presidents acknowledging reports of gatherings that violate COVID protocols but also emphasized in the opening paragraph “none of the concerns have provided evidence that can prove a policy violation, we definitely have definitely seen an increase in individual alcohol-related conduct cases involving both old and new Greek life members. We have also observed increased student pedestrian traffic in the areas of fraternity houses.”

At the end of the email, Priepke stated, “Any fraternity or sorority who violates our policies during this time will be suspended.”

Two days after this email, parties were larger than ever. Multiple fraternities hosted large pool parties all day on Saturday Jan. 30 across various parts of Miami. Party attendees Ubered from one party to the next without masks. The Miami Hurricane confirmed that multiple students who attended these parties recently tested positive for COVID-19. Members of several sororities were in attendance at these parties including Alpha Delta Pi (ADPi), Zeta Tau Alpha (Zeta) and Delta Phi Epsilon (DPhiE).

Beta Theta Pi hosted one of these parties. Photos show a party with students unmasked, blatantly violating every social distancing guideline UM instituted. The party was heavily attended by ADPi members, at least four of whom say they believe they contracted the virus there.

At the time of publication, the Beta President was identified by UM as Andrew Athenas, he did not reply to a request for comment. The Dean of Students office now identifies Spencer Silvernail as president. He did not reply to a request for comment ethier.

Several students gathered for a pool party hosted by Beta Theta Pi on Saturday, Jan. 30.
Several students gathered for a pool party hosted by Beta Theta Pi on Saturday, Jan. 30.

On the same day, Pi Kappa Phi’s party took place at 6635 SW 48th Terrace, Miami.

At the time of publication, The Dean of Students office identified Markar Krikorian as the acting president of Pi Kappa Phi. The Hurricane reached out to Krikorian for comment and no reply was provided.

A week later and after publication, Krikorian replied to an email requesting comment informing The Hurricane he was no longer president. After contacting the Dean of Students office, they updated their website on Feb 9., to reflect current fraternity presidents.

Current president Ryan McCaffrey declined to comment.

According to sources, more than 100 people attended. Those that attended said there was not a mask in sight. The party was broken up by police around 5 p.m. Party-goers then Ubered to the next closest party.

The next party was hosted by Sigma Phi Epsilon at 7997 SW 76th Ave., Miami. The party was at a rental property and came complete with an inflatable bouncy house provided by All Star Events. Over the span of a half hour, more than 100 different students were seen going in and out of the party. A next door neighbor said fraternities routinely rented this house each weekend to throw parties throughout the fall semester

Party-goers leave  a pool party hosted by Sigma
Party-goers leave a pool party hosted by Sigma Phi Espilon on Saturday, Jan. 30. Photo credit: Jesse Lieberman

The University of Miami Police Department was notified of the party and provided with both the address of the party and the fraternity hosting it. UMPD stated it was out of their jurisdiction, made a note to the Dean of Students Office and then contacted another police department. Forty minutes after the initial report was made, the South Miami Police Department broke up the party but failed to write a report.

The South Miami Police Department was contacted for this story but did not return a call requesting comment. They also refused to identify the police officers who responded to the event. UMPD said the investigation into the party is ongoing.

On Monday, Feb. 1, two days after the parties, UM set a record for daily total infections with 134, nearly double the previous single-day high of 68. The next day, there were another 86 positive cases. One day later, Priepke and Luna sent out an email to all of Greek Life but failed to acknowledge the existence of the parties, nor did it discuss any ongoing investigations. But, the email did discuss the high numbers of COVID cases among Greek members.

“If we continue to see disproportionately rising numbers in COVID-19 infections among Greek Life in person population, we will suspend all Greek Life operations and organizations for the rest of the semester.”

Another email was sent on Feb. 4 announcing the closure of the Panhellenic building and that only people who live in fraternity houses will be allowed in them. The email said “several fraternity and sorority chapters have experienced positivity rates among their membership.” It does not acknowledge any parties or investigations into Greek Life activities.

The emails were met with mixed responses.

Members of Zeta, who were at many of these parties reportedly have been getting COVID tests at non UM-affiliated testing centers. This way, if members test positive, they can avoid notifying UM.

Despite the threats of suspending Greek Life this semester, many members of the UM community are skeptical anything will be done to curb the partying.

“They are clearly not enforcing the social distancing amongst the undergrads,” said a graduate student who teaches in person and lives across the street from what she believes was a fraternity pool party. The graduate student said she is fed up with the administration’s lack of action against people disobeying the social distancing guidelines.

“It just doesn’t seem like the university is doing anything to enforce the regulations they have,” she said. “Instead, they come out with videos saying how great everyone is doing. What does it say to the people who do care and are trying to be safe when there are no consequences for those that don’t?”

Those in Greek Life are also skeptical, including those who go to parties and those who do not.

“It is shocking to me that they send out emails talking about how good Greek Life members are doing,” said a sorority member who feels shutting down Greek Life is the right thing to do. Despite the strongly worded email from administration, the sorority member doubts anything will happen.

Greek Life leaders who have been attending parties feel similarly. One sorority president—who is not being identified because it will reveal the source of the information— was asked if she has concerns about news of parties getting out and being reported, she replied bluntly.

“So what, articles were written about it last semester and barely anything happened.”