Staff Report: How Did Zeta Psi Survive the Global Pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic was the largest and lengthiest disruption to colleges and universities since the close of World War II. Fortunately, University students are smart and resilient, particularly where Zeta Psi has chapters. What follows is the story of how Zeta Psi made it through the COVID-19 outbreak.

Looking back two years ago, we were incredibly naïve. At the start of 2020, Zeta Psi chapters were operating in the United States, Canada and Europe. We had just completed a successful Kirby Presidents Conference in Easton, Pennsylvania at the Tau Chapter at Lafayette College. Our staff and chapters were having completely normal semesters: recruitment, new member education, socials, philanthropy and of course, going to class. By the middle of March 2020, everything had changed as the pandemic spread throughout the world. Zeta Psi’s last event or chapter visit was in March 2020 when we hosted the midwest LTI in Kansas City, MO. There has not been an in-person LTI in the last 18 months and we aren’t sure when the next one will take place.

Soon, cases started appearing on campus. The first Zete members we identified with COVID-19 were students returning from studying abroad in Europe. By the end of March 2020, almost every University had cancelled classes and sent their students home. It’s likely that the movements of all of these students spread the pandemic throughout the United States and Canada. Zeta Psi had hundreds of new members who weren’t yet initiated into the fraternity because many were sent home before the ceremonies. The Fraternity Board immediately approved an “emergency authorization” which allowed chapters to initiate brothers without going through the formal ceremony. By the end of that month, we initiated members of the new Kappa Delta Chapter of Zeta Psi at George Mason University via Zoom in a modified ceremony. We knew we would need all of these new members initiated and ready to start recruiting when students returned to campus the following Fall.

2020-21 was a lost year for many on campus. While Universities returned their students to “class,” most “classes” were conducted via video conference. Social regulations were tightened so that groups of no more than a handful of students were allowed to be in one place at a time. Some Universities closed their fraternity houses entirely. Some allowed them to reside there, but restricted any type of gathering. There were major outbreaks at several chapters. Fraternities were often blamed for these outbreaks and regulations were tightened even further. The lockdowns were particularly strict in Canada, the UK, Ireland, France and parts of the US, where people were expected to leave their homes only for essential purposes – such as getting food or medicine – and all other commerce was stopped. Still, most chapters found ways to recruit men by video conference or in small group settings – and initiations were conducted primarily by emergency authorization.

There is now an effective vaccine available that most students have taken and the risk of serious illness for young adults is negligible. Many Universities have continued to limit large gatherings and the students are generally complying. Our chapters have moved many activities outside and so far, recruitment results are strong. Students still desire the close and intimate connections that fraternities provide – and no amount of regulation or restriction can change that. Zeta Psi will always have a place at the finest residential universities worldwide, and once we have established a chapter, we will always seek to return when the conditions on campus make that possible.

Faithfully yours in Tau Kappa Phi,

M. Lauck Walton, Pi/RPI ’84
Executive Director, Zeta Psi Educational Foundation