Caroline O'Connor / Daily Collegian
For Theta Chi, spring semester started off on a note similar to any normal college year: two massive back-to-back parties, packed to the brim with young people dancing and drinking — entirely disregarding COVID-19 health guidelines.
Two videos obtained by the Daily Collegian show rooms filled with people, who were not social distancing or wearing face coverings. The videos were confirmed by several sources to be from Jan. 29 and Jan. 30, respectively the last Friday and Saturday nights before the spring semester began.
The sources include two members in Panhellenic Council leadership, four current members of sororities — one of whom is a healthcare worker on campus with specific knowledge of recent cases — and a former member of a fraternity on campus. Each source confirmed that Theta Chi hosted parties, one on Friday night and another Saturday night — the weekend after thousands of students returned to campus for the first time since the pandemic began.
A video of the Friday night party shows people standing on tables and dancing shoulder-to-shoulder with drinks in their hands. As the video pans across the room, the oversized Greek letters of Theta Chi can be seen on the back wall.
Another video, taken at the Saturday night party, shows a similar scene, with students dancing in a room packed to the brim. Set over the video is a logo of Theta Chi, and the video later pans to a painting on the wall with a Theta Chi logo.
Both videos were provided to the Daily Collegian by members of sororities on campus who know people that attended the parties. A member of Panhellenic Council leadership also sent an accompanying screenshot, which provided a time stamp indicating that she recorded the video on Sunday, following the Saturday party.
The same member of Panhellenic Council leadership said she directly knows 18 sorority members who attended. Several of those who attended have also contracted COVID-19 in the days following the party, according to three current sorority members and a healthcare worker on campus with knowledge of the specific cases in the past week.
The healthcare worker said that the vast majority of cases last week were from underclassmen who tested positive, which was confirmed by University officials.
“We’re finding a pattern that a lot of them were from [the] Theta Chi [parties],” said the healthcare worker, who is also in a sorority on campus.
The healthcare worker spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of her job and membership in Greek life. Other sources spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution in the Greek life community. Both videos were cropped to protect the identities of students involved.
Adam Hollander, the Theta Chi alumni president, emailed the Daily Collegian a statement on Saturday regarding the matter:
“The Alumni of Theta Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity have no reason to believe a party happened on either January 29 or January 30, 2021. As far as the Alumni Corporation is aware, the members at Theta Chi UMass have been following the guidelines established at the beginning of the pandemic, and which have been in place since before their return to campus last year.”
Several sorority chapter leaders inquired about how to deal with sisters who went to the Theta Chi parties, said Maddie Press, vice president of standards for the Panhellenic Council, in a phone interview with the Daily Collegian.
One of the members of Panhellenic Council leadership told the Daily Collegian that the student who posted the video of Saturday’s party may try to “cover their tracks” and claim that the video was not recent. The other member provided a screenshot she obtained of the video, sent by Theta Chi to the Interfraternity Council, which allegedly shows the video being from February 2020.
Another member of a sorority on campus didn’t attend the parties. But her friend did, and now faces the consequences.
”I’m in a groupchat with her, and all she really said was that the party was fun,” the sorority member said. “Yesterday, she [said she] had COVID and was being moved to another building.”
Between Jan. 31 – Feb. 4, UMass amassed 342 new positive cases, which were reported on the COVID-19 Dashboard. The virus has a median incubation period of between four and five days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so it is likely that students who contracted the virus over the weekend would test positive mid-week.
On the Monday following the parties, the University received “a group conduct referral” about Theta Chi involving a violation of the Code of Student Conduct. Several sources said they reported a video of a gathering that appeared to be at Theta Chi to University officials. One source said that they also reported a video anonymously to the UMass Police Department.
As a result, the University launched an investigation the same day into whether the code had been broken, according to a statement from Jonathan Connary, the assistant dean of Students for Student Conduct to Theta Chi leadership.
“During the investigation, you submitted security footage of the Theta Chi Chapter House during the evening of the alleged incident, along with information showing videos posted to social media being several years old,” Connary wrote to Theta Chi leadership, who submitted security footage from the night in question as part of the investigation.
Several sources who spoke to the Daily Collegian said they reported a video, which had surfaced on social media in the last week, to University officials. The source who originally recorded the video told the Daily Collegian that the video was taken last year. That video, which shows a “UMass” geotag at the bottom, was not included in this article.
The security footage showed no visitors entering the property, school officials said. The investigation was resolved and the University determined that no code was broken.
“The Alumni Board has offered to share with Daily Collegian staff the same information and video footage provided to the University, but were told in response that the Collegian was not interested in evaluating this information,” Hollander wrote in the statement.
Hollander invited a Daily Collegian reporter to Theta Chi chapter house on Saturday to review the security camera footage. The reporter declined to visit the house as a safety precaution, and the Daily Collegian does not dispute the contents of the footage. No other information was offered to the student newspaper.
Two members of Panhellenic Council leadership heard a different story about the security footage. In order to avoid getting in trouble, members of Theta Chi had visitors sneak around the cameras intentionally, they said.
“What I’ve been told by someone at the party is that they snuck people in through other entrances where cameras couldn’t catch them,” one of the members said.
The other member of leadership also heard of fraternity members sneaking visitors around cameras last weekend. She said several sorority members had told her they were at the parties and have been snuck around cameras at Theta Chi in the past to avoid consequences.
UMass officials would not comment further on the investigation or the parties.
“If you go onto any social media, you’re going to see people posting,” a former fraternity member said. “If you want to find out where there are parties, you’ll find out.”
When asked if Theta Chi is the only Greek organization throwing parties, four sources said they have heard of other fraternities that have hosted parties in recent weeks as well.
“To be fair, it’s everybody,” said the former fraternity member. “There are people being good about it, but the fact is these parties can be thrown and people are showing up to them, and that’s a bigger issue.”
Both members of leadership in the Panhellenic Council leadership believe the groups are able to host large parties because they seldom face consequences.
“I’m going to be honest, I think not only is it their egos and poor decision making and immaturity, but they never suffer consequences from UMass,” one member said. “So I feel they know they can get away with it, and it’s not fair to those who choose to be responsible.”
Matt Berg can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.
Sophia Gardner can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sophieegardnerr.