A letter from Damon Sims to the Penn State fraternity, sorority community

July 24, 2020

Dear Penn State Fraternity and Sorority Community:

It is difficult to imagine a more uncertain time.  Penn State University and its fraternity and sorority community are notable for many reasons, one of which is their persistence.  The University and its Greek chapters have been joined together through generations of students, through both success and challenge, but always with the quiet confidence that commitment and determination prevail.  We still believe that’s true, of course, and to persist with the University’s plan to return to in-person experiences in one month, each of us must be determined to do what’s required of us all.   

Doing what we must will include significantly changing our ways.  We have no choice but to adapt to the demands of this virus, if we are to return to in-person experiences and sustain them through the coming months.  I assume you understand the nature of the virus and how its transmission is encouraged by social interaction, group gatherings, or other close contacts with those infected.  It’s also important to recognize that a substantial portion of those infected will show no symptoms, and may be completely unaware of their condition.  These factors are particularly challenging in the fraternity and sorority community, which is predicated, in part, on group interactions and social experiences.  

For these reasons, anything less than true commitment to the public health demands for face coverings, social distancing, symptom tracking, hand hygiene, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation would be a disservice to our friends, our families, our community, and our University.  We must insist on nothing less from both ourselves and those with whom we are joined in this cause, if we are to be together on our campus and in our community.  The responsibility is shared among us, and we each must do our part. 

It is notable that the Interfraternity Council has announced a moratorium on all socials.  The leadership’s recognition of the risks involved in any social or group gathering is appreciated, and I want to reinforce it.  In support, the University will not approve any social for any fraternity or sorority until we determine that our collective efforts to mitigate the virus are sufficiently successful to warrant relaxation of that prohibition.  But the gatherings that pose substantial risks are not limited to the formal definition of a social used by your organizations.  Any group gatherings can create undue risk.  We will continue our monitoring of activities in fraternities and sororities to encourage the compliance required.  

But there is much more we must do together, if the return is to succeed.  No one thing will be the answer to our challenge.  Instead, a system of interconnected actions and restrictions, to which all of us must be committed, will be the key to any success we find.  The following list includes those items that require attention from our Greek community.    

Special Requirements and Expectations Upon Return to Campus  

(Violation of items in bold below may be subject to disciplinary action)  

1.   No socials of any kind until circumstances warrant a relaxation of this mandate 

2.   No gatherings that exceed state or local government directives and compliance with all other relevant government mandates  

3.   Wear face coverings on campus, in campus buildings, and wherever the law requires, and consider wearing masks as often as you can elsewhere in the community, even in your residence 

4.   Comply with physical distancing requirements on campus, in the community, and in your fraternity or sorority activities, and generally avoid crowded locations 

5.   Fully cooperate with University and other officials responsible for the management of Covid-19 testing, including pre-arrival testing where applicable, contact tracing, and quarantine or isolation 

6.   Rigorously clean and disinfect your personal space and belongings consistent with public health guidelines, and practice good hand hygiene 

7.   Limit visitors, particularly out of town visitors, who may pose unusual risks, as you do what you can to minimize the presence and spread of the virus 

8.   Stay home whenever you feel ill; seek help from the University Health Services 

9.   Self-quarantine for at least seven days prior to your return 

10. Encourage your peers to join with you in doing the right thing at all times; we have to be in this effort together 

No one said a return to campus would be easy, and some among you may decide to remain home and learn remotely.  We have structured the delivery of courses to allow students to persist with their academic progress remotely, if that is their preference.  If we may help as you consider the option best for you, please let us know.  Your academic advisor certainly should be consulted. 

The good news is that we’ve all been at this task for months now.  There’s nothing completely new in what lies ahead.  The challenge, of course, is finding a way together to get the most out of our return to campus and community without jeopardizing our ability to sustain that opportunity.                                       

It is natural for all of us to seek interpersonal interaction, and we want to help you and your friends do so in ways that encourage safety and welfare.  We’re also going to be serious about enforcing compliance with the key requirements.  For instance, the parties you may be accustomed to simply can’t happen, at least not in the early stages of our return, as we work to minimize the virus and keep it at bay.  

Your alumni boards, housing corporations, and national organizations all have important roles to play in guiding you and your chapters to a good outcome.  The University will be a strong partner in that effort, and we will work closely with local authorities, too.  This challenge is shared by the whole community, and it will take a whole community pulling in the same direction to make our return work.   

I hope you’ll do your part.  Please let me know how I can help. 

Damon Sims

Vice President for Student Affairs 

Last Updated September 22, 2020