Maskless Greek Life Party Sparks COVID Debate at FIU

Hundreds of students from FIU's fraternities and sororities crowded in front of the student union without masks during one of the first on-campus celebrations this fall semester.
Hundreds of students from FIU's fraternities and sororities crowded in front of the student union without masks during one of the first on-campus celebrations this fall semester. Screenshot via FIU's Office of Campus Life, courtesy of PantherNOW
On Tuesday, August 24, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava visited Florida International University (FIU) to promote vaccinations and other COVID-19 safety measures. Cava's visit coincided with students' return to in-person classes at a time when cases are at an all-time high across the state and reports linking the Delta variant to more severe cases in younger people.

During the press conference, PantherNOW reports, Student Government Association President Alexander Rubido attested that "FIU is a big proponent of masks and vaccines" and that Cava praised "the responsibility that is taken by institutions like FIU."

The next day, Wednesday, August 25, hundreds of members of FIU's fraternities and sororities packed together outside the student union — sans masks or social distancing — for the annual Greek Barbecue, hosted by the university's Fraternity and Sorority Life Office. The barbecue had been canceled last year owing to rising coronavirus cases, and the students appeared in especially high spirits this year — chanting, and dancing, and seemingly unbothered by the fact that reported cases are more than five times higher across the state now than they were last August.

After PantherNOW reported on the Greek Barbecue and later posted the article to Instagram, some current and former FIU students took to the comments section to criticize attendees for gathering in such close quarters without personal protective equipment.

"They're the new Delta fraternity pledges," joked user

Another user, @averjayy, wrote, "Delta is gonna have us in a chokehold."

According to FIU's COVID-19 dashboard, 20 out of 300 students surveyed by the university's health clinic tested positive for the coronavirus in August. The rate of positive test results for August is at 6.67 percent, up from 4.96 percent in July while students were still off-campus.

While students, faculty, and staff are advised to wear masks on campus, FIU remains unable to mandate masks or vaccines — a move faculty and staff have openly advocated — despite a recent legal ruling overturning Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's ban on such mandates.

Last Friday, a Leon County Circuit Court Judge invalidated DeSantis' order. But FIU and other public universities cannot issue a mask mandate until the Florida Board of Governors, the body that oversees the State University System of Florida, advises them to. (The University of Miami, which is a private university, has enacted a mask mandate indoors and outdoors.)

@FIUBarstool, an anonymous Instagram account that posts FIU-related memes and content, commented, "Cry me a river," on PantherNOW's Instagram post, and then published its own post about the story, captioning it: "*Breaking news: college kids have fun while following school rules* #VivaLaPanthers." (The "cry me a river" comment has since been deleted).

"Did anyone think they were gonna wear masks if masks are only 'recommended'? Esp if they are only recommended to be worn indoors? Big bruh," commented Alex Sutton, a senator in FIU's student government association and a member of the fraternity Theta Chi.

In a letter to the editor PantherNOW published on Monday, Sutton argued that the newspaper was biased against Greek life and instead should have published an “article entitled: Breaking News: Hundreds of Maskless Students Crowd Graham Center Every Day.”

Sutton’s gist: The outdoor barbecue was actually safer than the environment created by the hundreds of students who roam around in maskless groups indoors on campus every day.

Whataboutism aside, Dr. Anthony Fauci surely would not approve of either behavior: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing masks at outdoor events if people are unable to keep six feet apart.

But PantherNOW editor-in-chief Valentina Palm says her staff covered the barbecue with only one thing in mind. "Our purpose is not to judge if the students' actions were right or wrong, — we were just reporting on what was going on on campus," Palm tells New Times. "We did the same coverage we would've done for any other organization."

Spokespeople for FIU and the office of Fraternity and Sorority Life did not respond to emails and phone calls from New Times requesting comment.

PantherNOW news director Jesse Fraga says the university hasn't responded to the paper's requests for comment since the story was published last Thursday, nor has Mayor Cava.
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos