Last summer, when York University announced that the 2020/21 academic year would be held online, I didn’t think much about how this shift to online schooling would affect my university experience. Yeah, I was bummed out that I wouldn’t be able to catch up with friends on campus after class or take recreational dance classes at the Second Student Center, but ultimately I thought, “What am I really missing out on anyway?” I thought I had come to terms with online schooling and by then, I had already become used to FaceTiming with friends instead of seeing them in-person ─ no big deal, right? Well, reality hit me like a train when the day before online classes began back in September. I realized that this is my final year of university, and as excited as I was to finish my undergrad, I really would be missing out on the experience of it all. No more late-night study (or napping) sessions in the library, or standing in the long lines for Tim Hortons, barely making it to class.
I wanted to find some way to make my final year of uni one to remember (aside from the fact that it was happening during a global pandemic, of course). In my second and third year, I had already become involved in campus life ─ joining a few student clubs, attending student-run events and some sports games. But since my last year wasn’t going to look like that, I had to get creative. I took to social media and looked at what clubs and events my fellow Lions were promoting. That's when I saw a post about Greek Life on campus. I had heard of there being sororities and fraternities on campus but I never really looked into it. My understanding of the scene was solely based on what I saw in movies and although there were features of sororities I admired, like sisterhood and the dedication to academics, there were other aspects of it that I thought I wouldn’t fit into, like the leadership roles and networking with other organizations.
I was hesitant to get involved, not knowing how well I would fit in, but I am beyond grateful that I didn’t let my fear of estrangement keep me from rushing and becoming a part of Kappa Phi Xi because through them, I truly found my sisters and myself.
Kappa Phi Xi (KPX), Alpha chapter was founded in 2018 by Lindsey Battaglia, Sarah Carriere, Maria Maksimoska and Segen Micheal in Toronto, ON. This local sorority is rooted in anti-bullying and anti-hazing sentiments and emphasizes their values of courage, loyalty and respect in everything they do.
Like many other Greek organizations, KPX faced the challenge of growing and continuing sorority life online during the Covid-19 pandemic. Adjustments had to be made to things like Rush, a period of several weeks wherein potential new members (PNMs) attend a series of events to meet and socialize with Greek organizations; philanthropy, fundraisers held throughout the year for an organization’s chosen charity; mixers, social/networking events between sororities and fraternities; and sister-bonding events where KPX sisters get together and (you guessed it) bond.
Kappa Phi Xi considered suspending Fall 2020 Rush and recruitment when they thought about how different it would be compared to previous years. Of course, things like philanthropy and sister-bonding events could be adjusted to work out online (with the help of platforms like Zoom), but the worry of recruiting and bonding with new members and successfully integrating them into KPX and Greek Life still proposed some challenges. Ultimately, it was decided that the organization would hold Rush in the Fall and adjust accordingly to the ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions. The bigger picture was evident ─ Kappa Phi Xi would continue to grow and thrive in less than ideal circumstances.
Hosting Rush Virtually For Potential New Members
Sarah Carriere, founding member and this year’s Recruitment Chair, knew the importance of hosting COVID-safe events for Kappa Phi Xi’s Fall 2020 Rush. Originally, this period had a combination of online and in-person events (at this time, outdoor social gatherings of a maximum of 100 people were still permitted in Ontario). However, right after the first in-person Rush event, the Ontario government revised their COVID-19 restrictions, which caused the shift from a hybrid online/in-person Rush to a solely virtual Rush period.
I had the opportunity to attend the one in-person Rush event and from this sole experience, I was sure that Kappa Phi Xi was the sorority I wanted to be in. I instantly got along with the KPX sisters like Brooke Gagnon (who would later become my Big), and Segen Michael who made me feel so accepted when she offered to walk with me across campus to where I was being picked up after the event. I also got to meet some of the other ‘Rushees’ that night as well, whom I would become better acquainted with online.
The shift to a completely virtual Rush kinda sucked, let’s be honest, but Kappa Phi Xi definitely made the most of it. Typically, during past in-person Rush events, it can be hard for the Recruitment Chair (and by extension, other sisters as well) to get to know all the Rushees because of how preoccupied they can get with running the event. For Sarah, she was glad that the online Rush events gave her the time to bond with PNMs without the stress of the upkeep that in-person events bring.
Rush season in general is a great opportunity for students to make friends and become a part of something great. “As a first-year student, it is hard to make friends, especially during a pandemic,” says Emery Alday, sister of the Delta class. “[But] when I joined KPX everyone was kind and welcomed me with open arms!”
In discussions with the KPX’s Executive team back in September, Sarah was in favor of hosting Rush twice this year (1 per semester, as usual). “We have the ability to do it online, I don’t wanna waste a year because what if we get 15/20 girls that are absolutely amazing? What if we miss out on the opportunity to have them in our organization?”, Sarah told the Exec. team. “I don’t ever, ever, ever wanna skip a semester’s worth of Rush unless [there are] extreme circumstances. If we are able to host it, I want to host it.”
With a variety of virtual events like a game night, movie night, and mixers with a couple of fraternities, Kappa Phi Xi held a successful Fall Rush and welcomed the Delta Class into their organization. By January 2020, KPX knew how Winter Rush would be playing out which took the pressure off of everyone in regards to how effectively they would bond with potential new members, and it was also something to look forward to during the cold and stormy season. With another successful Rush, Kappa Phi Xi welcomed its second class of the year, the Epsilons.
From Bustling Bake Sales to Virtual Philanthropic Fundraisers
Hosting philanthropic fundraisers this year has been drastically different and definitely called for some creativity ─ just ask Kappa Phi Xi. Previously, the sorority would hold bake sales throughout the year to raise funds for their chosen charity, the Canadian Cancer Society. For Valentine’s Day 2020, the sisters of KPX sold holiday cards and candy as one of their philanthropic affairs for the semester. These events, among many others, were proven to be very straightforward and successful but most importantly, they were personal.
When translating philanthropy online, there is a concern that outreach may not feel as personal, since promotion could really only consist of posting and sharing digital posters on social media. However, this did not deter KPX from raising charity funds for the Canadian Cancer Society and other groups/organizations, including The North York Harvest Food Bank, the Mi’kmaq Nation of Nova Scotia, The COVID Care Collective, and The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario. This year, KPX got creative and held virtual basket raffles, a food drive, gift card raffles, and even a candy count.
“Sorority life online is difficult especially for the sisters who are used to our meetings and events being in-person,” says Aliana Santiago, this year’s Warden. “On the bright side, it has shown how resilient our sisterhood is. We still see each other (virtually), get to meet new members, and get really creative with Zoom ideas. It has also shown how easy it can be to be accessible for members who could benefit from online formats even in non-pandemic circumstances.”
Despite the fact that the sisters of Kappa Phi Xi were limited to only collecting monetary donations via e-transfer this year (in comparison to how things were run pre-pandemic, such as food drives where non-perishable foods would be physically collected from donors), the organization was still successful in all of their philanthropic fundraisers despite the circumstances. At the end of the day, these events are held to benefit the charities, groups and organizations they were created for.
Adapting to the New Culture of Mixers
When mixers ─ social gatherings between Greek organizations ─ were held in-person pre-pandemic, Kappa Phi Xi sisters always arrived at the scene together. For one, it makes things less awkward to go in a group versus showing up to the function alone, but it’s also just a part of the sisterhood culture to get ready, meet up and all head out to the event together.
Typically, in-person mixers are pretty casual. They provide great opportunities for networking, getting to know people you may have never crossed paths with outside of Greek Life, and making fun memories with new friends. But these events have proven to not translate as well in online environments.
Hosting or attending an online mixer brings a sense of formality, just like almost every other virtual interaction with strangers via Zoom ─ you all take turns introducing yourselves to the group and then go into (sometimes multiple) ‘breakout rooms’ until the event is officially over. The virtual setting has also limited the opportunities for people to make deeper connections with one another as breakout room assignments are typically randomized and timed.
In my experience, online mixers are a good time. It can be a bit nerve-wracking however when you don’t know who else is going to be in your breakout room ─ you might be in a room with four of your sisters and only two fraternity guys, or it could just be you in a breakout room with a bunch of fraternity guys you’ve never met before. But what I’ve learned and experienced so far in Greek Life, is that everyone, brothers and sisters, are there to meet people and have a good time. In situations that I prematurely judged to be awkward, it actually turned out to be a good time. You have people filling in gaps of momentary silence, people who keep the conversations going by genuinely engaging with what you’re saying, and people who are just natural entertainers and will do handstands in their bedroom just for fun.
“Though I really miss seeing all of my friends in person, I am so glad we were able to make the best of it and continue with online sisterhood events and mixers,” says Andrea Bruce of the Alpha Class.
Mixers are really what you make them, but it does help that this year’s External Social Chair Ava Bayat, chose some fun themes for them. Themed mixers aren’t exclusive to online mixers ─ there have been some great ones pre-pandemic as well. Continuing this custom and getting to dress in the themes of Beach Bums, White Lies and Formal, just to name a few, really brought a sense of familiarity to the virtual mixers this year.
Consistency in Sisterhoods
Kappa Phi Xi has managed to maintain their strong sisterhood culture over the past year online. Thanks to this year’s Internal Social Chair Chloe Buckley, the organization has had multiple fun and creative online sister-bonding events. From Kappa Olympics to PowerPoint Night and the Holiday Party to the Google Earth Scavenger Hunt, KPX did not fall short in providing sisters with ample opportunities to bond with one another.
“Without KPX I have practically no social life and [so] having these virtual events and a great support system has really made the whole experience of living in a pandemic much easier,” says my fellow Delta class sister Melinda Morvai. “Seeing KPX events on my calendar really gives me motivation during the week and something to look forward to.”
‘Sisterhoods’ are what the sorority deems as bonding events that are only for the sisters of Kappa Phi Xi. Outside of these events, sisters can (and do, of course) get together and spend time with one another. Sisterhoods give all of the organization’s chapter members the chance to get together and facilitate the friendships and bonds that keep the sorority strong through various activities. It is great to know that these events did not get lost in translation when sorority life shifted to a virtual platform.
“This [virtual platform has] allowed many sisters to have an escape from the harsh reality of our world today,” says Fatima, this year’s Treasurer. “The moments we shared this past year ─ despite being online ─ has made me glad I had stumbled on KPX.”
Back in October when COVID-19 restrictions still allowed for restaurant dining and get-togethers, Chloe organized a birthday bash for all of the ‘quarantine babies’ ─ sisters who didn’t get to celebrate their birthdays with friends during the Ontario 2020 quarantine/lockdowns. As a Pledge, I went to this event not knowing what to expect, and left with some laughs, a stomach full of dessert waffles and an overall good feeling. Getting this time to sit down with the KPX sisters and some of the other Pledges over dessert and chat about life was just such a fun and genuine experience. I’m glad I got a taste of what it’s like to spend time in-person with the sisters because it really showed me that there’s no reason to be nervous when everyone is there for the same reasons as you ─ to get to know each other and build friendships.
This past year has been a really challenging one for everyone and for students, changes to our university experiences only added to the number of things that went virtual and reminded us that we are living in unprecedented times. Kappa Phi Xi is an example of persistence and resilience with their devotion to sisterhood and outreach. Things might have looked a bit different than what they’re used to, but their values and goals remain.
Sarah, one of four founders, describes KPX as a “women empowering women” organization and for her, one of the best parts about sorority life is getting the opportunity to see sisters grow, and develop self-confidence and leadership skills, qualities they will use throughout the rest of their lives.
As Jeea Park, this year’s Vice-President and Pledge Educator has consistently told us throughout the year, you get back as much as you put in. If you go into this with the right intentions and you put in the work to achieve what you want, you will be met with reciprocated energy.
I’m still very much enjoying my virtual sorority life experience despite all of the in-person fun I’ve heard I’m missing out on due to the pandemic. I constantly remind myself that this is the “something great” I was looking to add to my senior year, and everything turned out to be really amazing. With this mindset, adjusting to virtual settings is a piece of Phi ─ I mean, pie.
Although things looked a bit different this year with almost every part of sorority and Greek life being online, Kappa Phi Xi had another successful year of genuine sisterhood and unforgettable memories. Now that they’ve got one pandemic year in the books, there is no doubt that they will continue to grow and thrive in whatever circumstances the future holds.
“My experience with KPX has been unforgettable! I am so thankful for all the amazing people I have met and the long-lasting friendships I have made. Especially during this year, I am so thankful I had a family and support system to help shed some light on a dark time.” ─ Andrea Bruce, Alpha Class
“Experiencing [my] first year of university online, Kappa Phi Xi has made it into a memorable experience and something that will remain with me forever. Little things such as games and activities on Zoom has made quarantine bearable and always gave me something to look forward to.” ─ Maria Cretu, Delta Class
“My last year in KPX being online is definitely bittersweet because I wish I could hug everyone. Regardless, I think the online experience is changing the game and giving Greek life a cultural reset.” ─ Aliana Santiago, Alpha Class
“Most girls join in their first year, but in my class alone I was surprised to see I wasn’t the only one who didn’t join until late in my academic career. It was astounding and relieving to me to see us welcomed into the fold just the same as the newcomers. These girls rock.” ─ Omolola Fayemi, Delta Class
“KPX has been an enriching part of my university experience. It has allowed me to meet new friends from various different programs, hold a leadership position and grow as an individual.” ─ Fatima Abdul, Alpha Class
“Online social interactions are definitely not the most ideal, but having so many sisters [in the sorority means] there are always people there and willing to talk [to you]. Greek life is amazing ─ [it’s] where you meet so many different personalities and different career paths to relate to or to learn more of. With social media being a huge connection [platform] for jobs, entering Greek life not only gains you friends but also life skills to advance your connections for your future.” ─ Jeea Park, Alpha Class