Pop music and UF students filled Sorority Row Thursday. Although masks appeared to be on nearly every student, social distancing was rare during the outdoor events.
Hundreds of UF students visited Sorority Row from noon until 8:40 p.m. in staggered groups throughout Thursday to celebrate Bid Day, the end of Panhellenic sororities’ recruitment. Potential new members were offered “bids” to join one of the 18 sororities the UF Panhellenic Council oversees. Almost all Panhellenic sororities held celebrations for their new members.
The Panhellenic Council hosted a fully virtual rush week, when potential new members chose their sororities, this Fall. Sororities could host in-person events on Bid Day, as long as they followed UF, state and federal guidelines, according to theirrecruitment plans.
All in-person Bid Day events had an option for students to participate virtually, according to the Panhellenic Council’s plans.
New and old members wearing masks huddled together for photos, hugged and chatted in circles without six feet between them. Small groups of women took their masks off to eat catered food outdoors within six feet of each other.
Six UPD officers patrolled the area throughout the day, but did not enforce UF’s social distancing policies at the events because members of Sorority and Fraternity Affairs were present to do so, said UPD Officer Kenneth Motes.
The officers were there to “provide security for the event should anything arise that needed law enforcement,” Motes said.
Alpha Chi Omega’s DJ, who was seen to not be wearing a mask, blasted pop music and remixes to the street from the front steps of the chapter’s house.
Brigitt Palomino, an 18-year-old UF finance freshman, joined Alpha Chi Omega Thursday and attended her sorority’s celebration.
“I’m not worried so much about social distancing,” she said. “I feel like if everyone is wearing a mask, it’s safe.”
Experts disagree with Palomino.
The Center for Disease Control website states that COVID-19 spreads between people in close proximity to each other for prolonged periods. Masks do help limit the spread of the virus, especially when people are not social distancing.
The highest risk events are large gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced out, according to the CDC’s gathering and event guidelines.
Vice President of Student Affairs D’Andra Mull wrote in an email to UF students Aug. 21 that parities on campus could result in consequences like loss of privileges for students or student organizations, expulsion or suspension.
In an Aug. 28 email to students, Mull wrote that off-campus, indoor gatherings of 11 or more people who don’t live together is unacceptable.
Motes said members came in staggered groups of 25 to their sorority houses every 30 minutes to allow for social distancing.
UPD officers were stationed on Sorority Row from noon to 8 p.m. along with three staff members from UF Transportation and Parking at the request of UF’s Sorority and Fraternity Affairs, Motes said. Sorority Row, SW 9th Avenue, was blocked off for the events.
UF allows on-campus gatherings with new COVID-19 safety precautions, according to a July 1 policy. Social distancing of six feet must be at outdoor and indoor events, according to the policy. UF limits attendance for on-campus indoors events to 50 people.
A food truck and tent serving gelati, a mixture of ice cream and Italian ice, catered to Alpha Chi Omega and Sigma Kappa sisters. BZ Gelati’s owner, Brandon Grabhorn, said the truck and tent served more than 300 women from the two sororities throughout the day. He said all of the employees wore masks and gloves.
Grabhorn said he discussed safety measures with Alpha Chi Omega and Sigma Kappa before agreeing to cater their event. He said that students approached the truck and ate their gelati in groups of 10 and observed social distancing in line.
Outside the food truck, small groups of students ate gelati with their masks off less than six feet apart.
After rushing over Zoom, Palomino met her new sisters in person for the first time Thursday.
Palomino said Alpha Chi Omega did not host all of the new members at once, but had four shifts of new members staggered throughout the day. She was part of the last shift from 8 to 8:40 p.m, she said.
During her shift, Palomino said there were about 35 students inside the chapter house at once, including new and old members.
Palomino met her new sisters and toured her chapter’s house during her shift. She said everyone wore masks and tables and chairs in the house were spread out for social distancing. Small friend groups sometimes stood together within six feet of each other.
“I had a blast,” she said. “I felt like I was at home with all of them.”
Lianna Hubbard is a reporter for The Alligator’s Investigative Team. The UF women’s study major began as a freelance reporter three years ago. She founded her community college’s award-winning newspaper before beginning at The Independent Florida Alligator. See an issue in your community or a story at UF? Send tips to her Twitter.