Students plan Unofficial despite pandemic

Corryn Brock, News Editor

Despite the global pandemic continuing to loom over Eastern, some students intend to have an Unofficial this year.

Unofficial is hosted every year at the University of Illinois and Eastern. Meant to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in a “house crawl” fashion, the psuedoholiday is something many students look forward to every Spring.

It was celebrated in 2020 a week before the COVID-19 pandemic shut many parts of the country down.

Typically, it is arranged by a small group of students and recent alumni but this year it is believed that parties are being planned by members of Greek Life in an attempt to keep the tradition alive.

Many believe the daylong party is set to take place this weekend while Eastern’s administration is currently expecting the event to happen later this month to coincide with the March 18 Wellness day. 

Regardless of when it will take place, local officials and leaders say they’re ready for when it does occur.

Charleston Police Department Chief Chad Reed says he plans to have more officers patrolling the city this weekend. University Police Department Chief Kent Martin says he is considering scheduling more officers but has not made an official decision.

Reed said it is typical for the departments to have extra manpower for the weekend. He said he believes the festivities will not have as many attendees this year because of Eastern’s COVID-19 guidelines.

The chiefs recommend talking to neighbors beforehand about the parties and giving them contact information for those residing in the house in case the neighbors have concerns, watching alcohol intake and making sure to drink water in between drinks, avoiding carrying open containers of alcohol, having a designated driver and not using false identification.

Charleston Fire Department Chief Steve Bennett said those who attend should use good judgement during the event as Unofficial tends to lead to some students needing to take trips to the emergency room.

Beyond the typical concerns, however, COVID-19 has added new risks.

Dr. Sheila Simons, Eastern’s lead COVID-19 investigator, said the event could potentially be a super spreading event for the virus.

“There’s bound to be cases that come out of this, it’s just simply going to happen. How many cases I, of course, can’t make a prediction; whether the parties are inside, outside, all of these things are factors. How long are they there, what they’re doing, how close they are to people, there’s a lot of things that make it difficult to give an estimate on how much cases will increase by but with the situation as it is even if the parties are inside or outside, when you add alcohol you see a lot of behaviors that develop as a result of that because our inhibitions decrease so we’re more likely to do things we normally wouldn’t do,” Simons said. “That’s a concern, those behaviors, because for me and my team I could have a thousand contact tracers but the problem is we’re not changing individuals’ behaviors and until that happens, behavior change, we’re not going to see this go away any time soon and of course the vaccine is helpful but it’s still a concern because of the amount of time it’s going to take to get it to the younger age group.”

Simons said she hopes those who decide to attend practice social distancing, hand hygiene, not touching faces and being double masked.

She said she hopes to slow the spread of the virus, something she has been working on since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re not going to stop infections, what we want to do is slow the rate of the infections and that’s really what is so critical. That’s what we’ve meant all along by ‘flattening the curve,’ we just need to slow it down. Slowing it down will help us in the long run.”

However, regardless of the size of the spread, Simons said she is confident her team will be able to manage new cases that appear.

Vice President of Student Affairs Anne Flaherty said while the university is expecting Unofficial to take place at a later date, she hopes students chose to not attend either way.

“Obviously the stakes are especially high this year with COVID,” Flaherty said. “Any type of large group gathering is risky behavior while we’re still dealing with the virus and the pandemic.”

Leaders in the Greek communities say they hope the rumors of Eastern’s Greek Life taking part in Unofficial are untrue.

Nathan Wehr, Director of Fraternity and Sorority Programs says he has made it clear to chapters that they are not to host social events at this time.

“I think chapters definitely know that they shouldn’t be hosting social events … and I hope they take the opportunity to protect our community,” Wehr said.

He said he hopes the chapters choose to be safe either way, but especially hopes they choose to protect their fellow Panthers.

Interfraternity Council President and member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Eric Hunter and Panhellenic Council President and member of Kappa Delta Karen Gonski say they want to make it clear that attending or hosting parties at this time can lead to consequences.

“Karen, Nathan, and I have repeatedly asked IFC and PHC chapters not to host parties or and social events as we are in a pandemic. Our community knows that COVID 19 is a serious threat and we must protect ourselves by following COVID guidelines,” Hunter said. “Those who chose to partake in these social events will have consequences.” 

“I, as well as Nathan, have warned the Panhellenic community numerous times that social events with alcohol are still prohibited during the unprecedented times of COVID-19, unofficial does not make this rule change. I hope that the Panhellenic community stays true to their values and keeps the entire community safe,” Gonski said. “If chapters choose to participate, they will be held accountable for those actions.”

 

Corryn Brock can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]