Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the traditional college experience has been upended for students across the US, and "normal" college activities have halted.
Greek life, which is predicated largely on social interaction, looks different. Major events have been postponed, canceled, or moved online.
But at many colleges, including the University of Florida, Greek life is still happening. UF sororities and fraternities have now welcomed their newest batch of members.
Freshman Emily Lampi is justifying the cost — which can range from $900 to $3,500 — by celebrating the small positive moments that have happened and focusing on the long-term reasons she joined.
Still, she finds herself questioning the cost. "It's hard to justify, especially when I'm sitting in my room on a Zoom call with them," she told Insider. "Am I really paying this much money to sit on a Zoom call?'"
Emily Lampi had heard the rumors of sorority recruitment at the University of Florida.
Last year, it rained the entire week in Gainesville, Florida. Lampi, now a freshman at the school, heard stories about women sprinting from house to house in an effort to stay dry. In 2018, it was so hot, makeup melted and women carried handheld fans.
But this year, the 18-year-old didn't have to face anything like that. She'd be participating in rush — another term for sorority and fraternity recruitment — from her air-conditioned dorm room on campus.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Florida's Panhellenic Council, which oversees 18 sororities, decided to host recruitment fully online.
Instead of walking from house to house, Lampi would join Zoom calls with sorority sisters and watch pre-recorded videos explaining each chapter's approach to philanthropy and sisterhood.
"I don't have another rush experience to compare it to, but I definitely know that this was so different," she told Insider. "I feel like it would've been crazier in person."
For many students, Greek life is included in the stereotypical image of the University of Florida. Bonding with dozens of people and participating in events like road trips and date functions encourage people to join.
But with those key elements of the traditional Greek experience gone, Lampi has gone back and forth on whether the cost —which can easily cost thousands of dollars a year — is worth it.
"It's hard to justify, especially when I'm sitting in my room on a Zoom call with them," she said. "Am I really paying this much money to sit on a Zoom call?"
A sorority bid comes with a big bill
From August 20 to 27, Lampi was introduced to each of the university's 18 chapters. Lampi joined 15-minute Zoom calls where she interacted with sisters from each sorority.
"Everyone says the most important thing is when you walk into a sorority house is the vibe you get from all the girls," Lampi said. But online rush meant Lampi didn't step into homes, so "vibes," energy, and atmosphere for an entire chapter were discerned from calls with one or two sisters.
As the week progressed, Lampi picked sororities she felt she was compatible with, and the sororities did the same. By the end of the week, Lampi was welcomed into a sorority after talking to just four of the chapter's members.
But with that welcome also came a hefty price tag: Lampi said her dues are just under $1,000 for the semester. (The pre-initiation semester can range from $900 to $3,500.) If Lampi decides to move into her sorority house next year, her chapter dues, rent, and meal plan will fall somewhere between $2,700 and $6,000.
Lampi is going to the University of Florida on scholarship, so her main expense this semester is her sorority dues.
She said she's searching for a part-time job to help cover the costs, and she opted out of the sorority's meal plan — which would have tacked on an additional $1,000 — to save money. Even then, her dues of $1,000 still feel like a lot.
"I've never paid anything like that for anything ever in my life, maybe braces," she said.
She often wonders whether virtual friendships are worth the cost
Lampi said she's constantly questioning if the price tag is worth it. She joined a sorority for its connections. Friends, yes, but she also hopes to network and career advice from the sisterhood.
So far, the pandemic has made that challenging. Her sorority had a moratorium on in-person events for the first couple of months of fall.
Lampi has been a part of her chapter for more than two months now, but she hasn't stepped foot inside the house. She hasn't gone to any in-person events, and she's avoided all gatherings.
Traditional sorority experiences, like big-little reveal — where new sorority members are paired up with an older sister — happen from behind computer screens.
Even events that were designed with social distancing in mind have been canceled. A recent plant pot painting party, which was supposed to happen outdoors with masks and space, was canceled, Lampi said. In its place, the sorority has turned to virtual events like baking and watching Netflix.
In October, the moratorium lifted, but that doesn't mean Lampi was eager to add more than 100 girls to her social circle. "I don't feel really comfortable going out with them, especially since they're all in dorms," she said. She trusts herself, her roommate, and a handful of high school friends to follow the guidelines.
Outside that small circle, she knows she's putting herself and others at risk.
She said she might enjoy the sorority experience more if she wasn't so careful about contracting the virus. "I feel like it would be [worth it] if I was willing to get coronavirus, but I'm not."
Lampi is justifying the expense based on the little, positive moments she's had so far
Lampi's college experience is drastically different than what she imagined a year ago, but as she's adapted to the school year, she's learned to stay positive.
Whether it's an encouraging interaction with a professor, an empty line at Starbucks, or discovering a favorite spot on campus, the small wins have helped create a meaningful semester. She plans to take that same approach to her sorority experience.
Nights on Netflix and sincere conversations are memories she'll remember from this first year, and she said she can picture herself fitting into the group.
As the fall semester starts to pick up, the sisters have already helped Lampi get involved. Recently, Lampi submitted an application for student government, and a member from her sorority took the time to review her application and provide feedback. She also recently got a big, who will serve as a mentor and a friend she can turn to throughout her first year at the university.
As Lampi considers the costs, she also envisions the rest of her college experience including Greek life. That longevity element is helping keep her positive.
"I don't think I'm getting a thousand dollars' worth of making a few friends, but they say it's worth it in the end because you're going to make so many relationships with people."
If you're a teacher, student, or parent who wants to share their story on what it's like to go back to school right now, get in touch at email@example.com.
Read the original article on Insider