Courtney Weaver is joined this week by Matthew Richardson, director for the Center for Fraternal Values and Leadership to talk a little bit about Greek Life here at WVU and the importance of peer accountability and community responsibility in the age of COVID-19.

Transcription: 

Welcome to Wellbeing. Wednesdays. I am your host, Courtney Weaver. I'm the director over at WellWVU here at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. Lots of West Virginia's in there with me today is dr. Matthew Richardson. He is the director for the Center for Fraternal Values and Leadership, uh, which is the new name for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority life. So it's the the Center for Fraternal Values and Leadership now. So get the name right. A really good job with that Courtney. Good job. And you know, I really try, uh, so Matthew, why don't you explain to all of our avid listeners, your role at the university?

Sure. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. Um, I've been listening to your podcast and I feel really honored that I get to be a part of it. So I think you're the, one of the 12 people who listen, sorry. Well, uh, it's a space in a badge of honor. For me. So, um, so I've been here since, uh, the fall of 2017.

Uh, when I took over as the director of Greek life, we've had a number of name changes. We went from Greek Life to Fraternity and Sorority Life. And now the the Center for Fraternal Values and Leadership. Um, and I think that the name really reflects a lot of the things that we've done over the past. Uh, uh, three years, um, going on four years of our, with in terms of academic years, um, you know, we have grown exponentially.

We've had, uh, fraternities and sororities join us. Uh, we've had groups, uh, unfortunately leave us. Um, but we now oversee 70 plus organizations on campus. And it's, it goes beyond just the general social fraternity. We also receive the academic, the service, the professional, the honorary, uh, and special interest groups as well, uh, on campus.

And people often ask me, they say, well, well, what's a special interest fraternity. And I think the best example of that would be. You know, Epsilon top high, which is a, an Eagle Scout fraternity, a fraternity for, for men who reached Eagle Scouts. So, uh, we have an active chapter of them on our campus and they do some great things.

Um, so, so we've done a lot of really, really neat things and, and have seen our sort of student portfolio expand beyond traditional Greek life, uh, that you, you would think about on a. Typical college campus. Okay. And now for the social, for fraternities and sororities, there are four councils that were well there's three governing councils for our more, the general organizations.

We had the Interfraternity council, the Panasonic association, and then the national Panhellenic council, uh, which is representative our historically black fraternities and sororities. And they identify probably more as service social organizations, more so than the general. Uh, organization. So, um, you know, I, I think that there's, uh, there, there are differences.

Make them unique. Yeah. They speak to a lot of, and, and I'm not just speaking of NPHC, but all of our counselors, we also have the professional Greek council and working. Hang on multicultural Greek council, the differences between them should be celebrated and, and they really attract different kinds of students who want to go Greek for various reasons.

Okay. I was in a professional fraternity and undergrad psych guy, which is the psychology one. And then when I was in graduate school, we actually. They actually made one up, uh, because there wasn't, oddly enough, there wasn't a national sexuality, uh, like business kind of fraternity. So now it's Gamma at a row.

I don't know if that's even real, but it's real at West Virginia University. So no, absolutely. I that's. That's fantastic. And, and actually that's where all of our groups find their history is a lot of times there's not a space for people that, that want to have. A particular space. Um, I think that with the traditionally white organizations, I think it's a little bit that is a little more romanticized, I think for them.

But, um, you know, there's a lot of organizations now that exist, uh, that represent all of the whole spectrum of identities and that's important. And so, um, but that's, it's very much, if it's real to you, Courtney, it's real to me. I got to wear cords at my graduation and that's what made it real. There we go.

That's the sign. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, pretty much. Um, so let's talk a little bit about, uh, fraternity and sorority life and COVID because COVID all over our lives. I mean, not just the, what is it either? I don't think I've ever been, Oh, you haven't heard that it's a pandemic. It's, you know, it's actually not funny to it to be laughing about, but, um, no, I mean, you're absolutely right.

It has completely absorbed life. And you know, I think that we're going to be referring to life is pre COVID and post COVID. When hopefully post COVID that happens soon because you know, obviously a lot of people are suffering and, and lives are being lost, but, um, yeah, absolutely always seems. And I always say this, you know, Greek life always seems to.

Find its way in the headlines, you know, even in the, yeah. So I mean, it is important for us to acknowledge that COVID is kind of running rampant in fraternity houses nationally. And I think in a way. I don't want to say it makes sense, but it kind of is a foregone conclusion in that sense, just because of the way fraternity houses are set up.

Just because there are a lot of folks in very small spaces that are sharing, you know, their daily lives. Um, but why else do you think that this is the case? Yeah, I, to your point, I think, you know, first acknowledging that free physical structure, a fraternity house or sorority house, uh, is different in some, how is it's more apartment style where they're single rooms, they're single bathrooms, some have their own sort of little kitchen suite in others.

It's more of a traditional residence halls style. There's more than one person residing in one space, um, are shared bathrooms. They're not able to access the kitchen because the kitchen is run by the organization's chef. Who's there on certain hours and that's, you know, outsource to a third party.

So, um, I think obviously situationally that, that. It spreads in a similar way. Um, then sort of anything else that's, that's similar to it. But I also think if you look at the news articles that have been out with, um, you know, all these campuses across the country, uh, I think unfortunately it's tied to the social scene.

It's tied to this notion of, we want a sense of normalcy and, and our, our normal is focused on social, uh, And I think that that outlook is, is contributing to, um, people continuing to get sick. And it's a very, very scary outlook. You know, what was fascinating to me when I think about our students here at WVU and the sort of, uh, this sort of trajectory they have been on when it comes to COVID right before spring break, this comes out.

There's this notion of, well, it's not really that big of a deal. I feel it doesn't affect people our age. Some of them are still going to go on spring break and a number of them still did go on spring break when they got back and they realized they weren't necessarily returning to campus. I think there was a general sense of awe.

We probably shouldn't have gone on spring break. Um, and then you started to see students really buying into the stay at home, uh, uh, You know, um, idea and, and, and really lived by it. And then I think as most things have in this country, things started to get political. Um, so it wasn't, it wasn't no longer, you know, let's stay at home for the benefit of other people.

It was, you know, we need to be focused on reopening the economy and all these things. And again, there's valid arguments on both sides and, and this is no longer just about WVU students, it's nationwide. Um, but I'm disheartened because I do think that there's a sense of. Uh, you know, wearing masks is, is impeding on individual freedom and all these things.

And I think that these ideas are trickling their way down and we're starting we're to see, um, you know, the, the, the sort of same actors come out against colleges and universities as these liberal havens. And, you know, they're having rules to restrict and do this and do that and not allow you to have your fundamental.

Uh, yeah. Rights in certain sense, uh, certain instances and, and so we're starting to see pushback on it. So I think that manifests itself with the fraternities, as you know, we're going to party, we're going to have people over and we frankly don't care. Um, you know, and, and, and I am very hopeful that that attitude is not going to bring its way to Morgantown.

Um, But, you know, as I think about, and I think of my peers who are the Greek advisors at those schools, you know, my heart goes out to them because they are in between a rock and a hard place. How do you effectively manage student behavior off campus? Um, or even on campus for a community that's very large and United in a, in a certain belief that right or wrong means something to them.

So it's a big challenge. Yeah. So what are the steps that we're taking here at WVU to. Maybe combat some of what you were just talking about. Yeah. I think, you know, one of the benefits we have that we as Mountaineers really believe in, um, are the Mountaineer values. You know, when I think about curiosity, respect, appreciation, accountability, um, you know, in service, you know, looking at.

Community expectations. Um, I'm hopeful that our students really buy into that idea and they understand that in order to get to it, that's of normalcy. We have to acknowledge that we are not in a space of normal. Uh, and so we're going to have to curtail some of our behaviors as we move forward. I will tell you that the conversations I've been having with our students, general students, student leaders, Is not so much, how do we get around rules so that we can party it's more, how do we manage this?

Our reality that we're living in a fraternity house that has 31 bed spaces and we have 31 people. So we're already over the 25, you know, capacity, um, and, and seeking clarification on that. Right, because what they're, what they're trying to do is not get around the rules, but it's, it's more of if we're outside and there's 31 of us and we all live there, is that going to be perceived as a gathering that violates rules.

And then, you know, obviously having to have dialogue with, with local law enforcement, um, you know, so I'm very heartened by those conversations because it's not a "we're going to do what we want and we don't care what you do." I would have to say it's more of a, "we really want to navigate this appropriately to keep our members safe."

And there's also been a lot of conversations of what is the guidance? What do we do if somebody. I’ll get sick, regardless whether it was his or her choice to go out or whatever, how do we support our member and make sure that they're following institutional protocols to ensure they're that they're getting the help that they need.

Right. So really you're talking about like peer accountability in that regard. So like what in general, what does peer accountability mean in the Greek system? And then what, what does it mean in relation to. Yeah, we, we, you know, we always say that we are sister's keeper. Um, so I guess a more general, we are siblings keeper, um, and it's something that I think.

I've really tried to emphasize while being here, you know, understanding people are still individuals in those individual, um, things that make a person individual matter. Um, however, when you join an organization, that's, values-based that centers around the interpersonal, uh, piece of, of, of, you know, uh, human bonding.

You have to watch out for one another. And part of that in the, in the Greek world is understanding that sometimes that means holding members accountable, which may not be popular, but it's the right thing to do to certain extent. A friend would let you do what you want to do because you want to do it.

But a brother or a sister, uh, would not let you do what you want to do if it's not right for you, regardless, whether you want to do it or not, because they know that at the end of the day, your family and the grudge you're about to hold is going to expire. Eventually we hope so. Right. And I think that that inherently is an infrastructure helps us with that peer accountability.

So what I'm hoping for the Greeks is that we can continue. To have, uh, that sort of, um, rapport with one another. In that my, my staff, um, and myself included can continue to coach our students through those sorts of processes. And then I hope that the Greeks being the leaders that they say they are, and that we know that they are, um, that they can role model that behavior for their non-affiliated, uh, classmates.

And that they can say, okay, wow, look. Here's what the fraternities and sororities are doing. I really think if they can do it, we absolutely can do it as well. And so I'm hoping that that sort of manifests itself into understanding, um, a new identity as residents of Morgantown, um, on top of just being WVU students and holding that very seriously and worrying about your neighbor.

Yeah. And I mean, that also speaks to the idea of community responsibility, which is a merely been a hot topic at the university level, like for all of our return to campus conversations. And so what does this mean in the Greek system? Well, I mean, I w I think remiss if we, if, if you're watching governor justices, you know, updates, when he talks about, you know, there's new restrictions for Mon County specifically, I think that the response to an influx of students coming from other places, I think it was pretty forward and direct, uh, with that.

Um, and I don't see that as, as problematic, I think it's, I think it's realistic. Um, and I also think that it's a. A challenge for our students to understand whether you're from West Virginia or not, you call this place home. Um, and so you have a responsibility of, of, you know, ensuring that other West Virginians, um, and your community members, uh, Morgantowners, or whomever, uh, are, are going to, to maintain their safety.

And so we've been working behind the scenes, uh, very diligently with, with, you know, the, the area, uh, Economic partnership to say, Hey, is there times where stores can open uniquely for students? Um, is there a times just like they do for, for older West Virginia? Um, we've been very intentional, uh, to be promoting all of the, the mandates that have come down, but really encourage outdoor dining and seating and, and, and, you know, those sort of, uh, Aspects of, of socialization as well.

Um, so I think that we've been doing a lot of work to encourage community identity. Uh, and I just hope that when our students come, come back, they realize the work that's been done on, on the back end for them to be the key players on the field. Yeah. Those are excellent points. Well, normally at the end of our show, we like to do like a little wellbeing snapshot, but I feel the past couple episodes, the whole, the topics have been very.

Covert related. And I feel like the whole episode is that snapshot, because one day we will stop having to talk so much about what COVID-19 and the effects that it's having across the nation, not just here in West Virginia, but, uh, we'll leave it in that. Yeah. Well, you know, I I'll just say this. If I can, Courtney, you know, uh, I would encourage everyone to not allow COVID to blind us.

So the other issues that are facing, um, us here in America and around the world, Okay. And I'll speak specifically to, um, you know, in Greek life where we have a lot of work to do when it comes to inclusive excellence, uh, race and racism and anti-racism work. Uh, there's a lot of things that we are to be focused on and it's appropriate that we're focused on COVID and working through that.

Um, but I, you know, as, as a lifelong member of my fraternity, You know, it's up to all of us to make sure that we're keeping those conversations going. Um, so that we, when we get to, it's always the space, we're always in a space where we can talk about these things. We can talk about why black lives matter.

We can talk about, um, why we need to be more inclusive and, and how we change member attitudes towards that. So, There's a lot of work that needs to be done. Um, but you know, obviously we're gonna, we're gonna maintain and then prioritize and make sure that our students and our members remain safe. And the best way to do that is to wear a mask.

And so I am wash your hands and wash your hands, wash your hands, wear a mask. There's a lot of really, I was just searching on Amazon. There's a lot of really neat Nass out there that I'm going to be ordering, uh, for when I returned to the office. And so I'll have a fashion statement made, uh, cause not only does it save lives, but you can look at doing so as well.

So yeah, I've really been enjoying buying masks. I got one that has Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls, 2020s. I would like to get one of, uh, of Rose and just any of her sort of, she's always been my favorite Golden Girls. Yeah. Which is a good one. I love the Lake. Sure. Betty White, safe and 2022. That's another one.

Yes. True. Alright. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Really appreciate you taking the time, uh, and to all of our listeners out there, we hope to catch you next time on Wellbeing Wednesdays.