Emails obtained by The Ubyssey through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request confirmed the existence of multiple complaints of potential COVID-19 violations among UBC fraternities around the time of their recruitment process.
In September 2020, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) allowed frats to hold in-person rush, permitting face-to-face gatherings and prompting questions of what UBC fraternities will be doing to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks. Shortly following that, nearly 1,300 people signed an unsuccessful petition asking the IFC to reverse their plans.
The concerns made it to the provincial level — an email obtained by The Ubyssey showed a provincial medical health officer notifying UBC admin that Dr. Bonnie Henry had been receiving concerned emails related to rush events at frats.
Concerns about rush events at Beta
Events held by Beta Theta Pi were the topic of concern for several senders, whose names were redacted in the FOI.
One email, sent to UBC Risk Management Services, expressed concerns for what a family member witnessed when he attended a Beta Theta Pi rush event in September, writing that a room of about 20 people were allegedly “not social distancing and, though they did have masks on, they were not being worn properly with the nose and/or mouth exposed.”
“... It is alarming to know that these events promising to mitigate risk don’t actually do that at all,” the sender wrote.
“This is only the beginning of the fraternity rush season, and this is only 1 of 10 fraternities on UBC campus, therefore the continuation of these behaviours and events could have dire consequences. We live with our grandparents, for example, and do not want an irresponsible fraternity event to bring them any harm.”
Another email, supposedly written by a working parent, wrote to President Santa Ono about their frustrations of working from home amid the recurring “booming of the music two full blocks away at the Beta Theta Pi frat house on Wesbrook Mall.”
“Having students who appear to have enthusiastically ingested a large amount of spirits and other substances parade past my window and having to hear the music and ‘woooo's’ of students and other residents frequently throughout the week, is exceptionally concerning given the Medical Health Officer's recommendations for people to socially distance and do their utmost to help keep COVID-19 at bay for as long as possible,” the parent wrote.
Beta Theta Pi did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In a written statement to The Ubyssey, Interfraternity Council President Noah Jassmann stated that there is an expectation across individual houses to adhere to current public health orders.
On the specifics of the Beta allegations, Jassmann referred The Ubyssey to the Beta president as the fraternity is independent from the IFC.
He said that the IFC “cannot confirm or deny with certainty the validity of these reports.”
“All gatherings held at [IFC] fraternities throughout the year were within the bounds of the health regulations at all times throughout the year,” wrote Jassmann, who emphasized that the gatherings were not parties, but recruitment events that adhered to the provincial guidelines.
“When gatherings and visitors were non-permitted, all members were made aware and these rules were strictly followed.”
While the IFC ensured that Beta was aware of the provincial regulations, Jassmann stated that “beyond this alleged instance, which IFC discussed with Beta, there were no other reported infringements of the public health order at Beta Theta Pi.”
“It cannot be proven whether or not these infringements took place, and as such the IFC followed through with the proper proceedings. I will note that, throughout the recruitment period there were no cases of COVID-19 within any of the fraternity houses,” he said.
Working closely with UBC
The FOI uncovered discussions between UBC admin and the IFC, from August to September 2020, in which UBC admin had been urging them to abide by provincial COVID-19 regulations.
The FOI shows that, between mid-August to September, Senior Director of Student Engagement, Amandeep Breen consistently communicated with the IFC and UBC Sororities, highly discouraging all in-person gatherings to minimize the risks minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission through direct emails and one-pager letters for wide distribution throughout fraternities and sororities communities. Yet, the IFC still chose otherwise and held an in-person rush.
Jassmann said to The Ubyssey that “fraternities were able to carry out this process while adhering to the current provincial health order.”
“Had the restrictions been tighter throughout the recruitment process, the IFC was prepared to move to an online format,” wrote Jassmann.
On September 11, Breen wrote to the IFC stating that UBC has spent significant time and resources working with them to ensure the safety of members of the greek life community.
“I am troubled and disappointed to know that the agreed upon protocols are not being followed,” wrote Breen. “While there is no formal relationship between UBC and Greek Life, all members of the Greek Life community are also members of the broader UBC community.”
UBC Media Relations Director of Media Relations Matthew Ramsey emphasized in a statement to The Ubyssey in June 2021 that the fraternities are “entirely independent of UBC and UBC has no role in their management.”
“The office of VP Students is in frequent contact with the IFC and individual fraternities and sororities and the broader student body to provide the organizations with information they require, as well as informational posters, physical distancing decals and hand sanitizer,”said Ramsey.
“These resources are in place across campus as we work to enhance community safety for all of our students, faculty and staff and work to prevent issues seen in other jurisdictions.”
Jassmann describes these discussions with UBC as “extremely effective,” saying that it has allowed fraternity members to better understand the university’s expectations.
“The IFC has, and will continue to, work closely with the University in order to ensure all expectations and guidelines are closely followed,” stated Jassmann.