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College Policies and Greek Life During COVID-19

By September 21, 2020April 6th, 2022No Comments

COVID-19 has changed the entire world in more ways than one. 

For college students this year, one of the biggest impacts of the pandemic will be regarding school policies, including those pertaining to Greek life and activities.

Because some universities may try to impose restrictions, students may find themselves accidentally violating those restrictions without realizing it.

It’s important to understand how college policies may affect Greek life during COVID-19 in case you’re ever charged with violating a new rule or policy.

How Fraternities and Sororities Are Affected By COVID-19 Preventative Measures

Traditionally, Greek organizations have been hubs for social activity and enrichment for universities. 

But Greek-hosted events, and the parties that these organizations’ members frequently hold, are thought to be potential hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission.

Thus, fraternities and sororities are now often being ordered to either host events differently than before or cancel plans to host future events to protect universities’ student and faculty populations.

Further complicating matters, a number of Greek organizations have ostensibly led to COVID-19 outbreaks at their associated universities.

For instance, the University of Washington recently experienced an outbreak where at least 136 students tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of those students living in and participating in events at fraternity houses.

Can Schools Discipline Greek Organizations?

Universities may attempt to stop COVID-19 spreading by preventing Greek organizations from holding any of the following social gatherings:

  • Parties
  • Study groups
  • Social events
  • Job fairs
  • Other gatherings

Schools may also implement additional pandemic safety policies.

However, whether or not a university can actually enforce those policies is up for debate and depends on additional factors.

Public or Private

Generally speaking, private universities have greater authority to discipline their students compared to public universities.

Many private universities require students to sign behavioral contracts in addition to other agreements.

Furthermore, private universities are not always required to prosecute students with the same requirements for due process as their public counterparts.

Public universities, however, are subject to due process in most circumstances and may share the responsibility for enforcing or punishing rule infractions with their hosting city.

On or Off-Campus

Whether a fraternity or sorority building is on or off campus can also affect university policy enforcement. On-campus buildings are much more susceptible to university enforcement since the potential danger of a rule infraction can reasonably affect other students and/or teachers. Such buildings usually fall under the university’s jurisdiction.

On the other hand, universities may find that they have limited authority to discipline students or Greek organizations for behavior or rule infractions if that behavior takes place off-campus.

Thus, students worried about whether or not they’ll face disciplinary charges for behavior need to consider whether their university’s threat is legitimate. Student conduct and defense attorneys can help identify the issue one way or the other.

Practical Enforcement

Things become trickier for universities that attempt to implement strict college policies on Greek organizations during COVID-19 due to matters of practical enforcement. 

Any school or administrator will need to:

  • Learn about a violation happening in the first place
  • Determine who organized the violating event or how the event was organized
  • Find out who was present for the event
  • Determine exactly what rule infractions took place

All of this may be next to impossible, even if the university makes several threats or demands. With the help of an experienced student defense attorney, students may be able to provide reasonable doubt as to their rule-breaking if sufficient evidence is not secured by a university’s prosecution team.

Contact Student Defense Attorneys Today

Any student facing the possibility of expulsion, suspension, or any other penalty for breaking a COVID-19-related rule should contact DC Student Defense. Your options are far from limited, and we can help protect your name at your school and assist you when navigating any disciplinary hearings or proceedings. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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