It’s rush week at the University of Nevada, Reno, and many of the fraternities held in-person events this week, promising to be distanced, masked and safe. As many organizations and clubs across campus have had to alter their operations to adapt to the new normal during a global pandemic, The Nevada Sagebrush staff wanted to see for ourselves what rushing a fraternity during a pandemic looks like.
It was a cold but clear afternoon in Rancho San Rafael, a park just five minutes from the University of Nevada, Reno’s student union. Gathered around two die tables and a few cornhole boards were a group of guys hard to miss, mostly because of the bright pink sweatshirts worn by some of the members. And off to the side were red, wooden letters standing around four feet tall—the Greek letters Alpha, Sigma and Phi.
Thursday was sports day for Alpha Sigma Phi, the last public rush event before a private, invite only event on Friday, where men who want to rush the fraternity undergo interviews with the fraternity leadership and find out if they made the cut.
For Alpha Sigma Phi, the week saw a number of events—a Zoom meet-up Monday, watching Nevada beat UNLV at Buffalo Wild Wings on Tuesday and bowling at the Grand Sierra Resort Wednesday, which is the most popular rush event for the fraternity, said Theta Eta Chapter President Kevin Finkler.
Finkler, who has been the president of the fraternity for the past two and a half years, says planning for events had to start earlier than most years because of the numerous things that have to be taken into consideration.
“Now we have to submit not only our recruitment plan, but an action plan for COVID with our nationals. We have to submit a plan with IIFC. And then we also are in talks with the university to make sure that we’re getting as much information as we can from the university in terms of what we can and can’t do,” Finkler said. “So we’ve been grateful for the university and Romando Nash for having meetings with us to make sure that we’re keeping our brothers safe and keeping the community as safe as possible and trying to operate our fraternity while this global pandemic is happening.”
Part of those COVID precautions, Finkler says, is limiting the number of active members of the fraternity at the event so more potential new members can attend.
Devin Downs, the fraternity’s recruitment and growth chair, says planning during a pandemic is like taking “everything we’re used to doing and relearn[ing] how to do it.”
“This semester has been definitely hard. But last fall we definitely did,” Downs said about rising to the challenge of recruitment during a pandemic. “A lot of us put in a lot of hours, a lot of work. I remember, it was like the craziest week of my life, just making sure we were all doing it correctly and following all the guidelines. But this semester has been hard because spring isn’t really popular for rushing anyways. But honestly, we get just one guy, it makes it worth it.”
When looking at the energy of attendees of the event, it seems like Alpha Sigma Phi’s efforts might just pay off.
Ethan Ostrea, a sophomore studying psychology and anthropology at the university, said he thought it was cool that all the event attendees were wearing their masks.
“Everyone’s straight up wearing a mask. And that’s pretty cool. Especially, I know a lot of people are like, ‘You’re outdoors. You don’t need to wear a mask’, but I really like that. The elbows, that’s really cool. But overall, it’s just been really like, people are pretty much social distanced,” Ostrea said. “I guess that’s why they did an outdoor event, right? This big open space instead of being an apartment or a claustrophobic house.”
It was Ostrea’s first rush event of the week, for both Alpha Sigma Phi and any other fraternity. He said if he didn’t get an invite to the private event on Friday, it wouldn’t be a big deal.
“If it happens, it happens. It’s meant to be. But if it doesn’t, I still got to have a good day,” Ostrea said.
But others were more committed to rushing.
Rocco Koch, a freshman studying business at the university, said sports day was his first Alpha Sigma Phi event of the week but not his first rush event. He said he had been to rush events with several of the other fraternities, including Alpha Tau Omega, Lambda Chi Alpha, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Tau Kappa Epsilon. He said he planned to visit his top choices again to see where he felt he best fit.
“It’s between like two or three right now,” Koch said.
Koch had a few reasons for rushing. A friend of his in Alpha Sigma Phi told him to come out, and his dad had been in Sigma Phi Epsilon at the University of Montana.
“They’ve all been pretty good about it. They were safe,” Koch said of the safety precautions at the rush events he’d been to over the week. “I think every house I went to temp checks you and everyone’s wearing masks. And [there is] a lot less people than I thought, actually.”