Madi Telschow is an English junior and president of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority at Texas A&M.
Life changes in the little moments – where words appear on a screen and phones glow with notifications. Though there are times in which these instances occur altogether in an overwhelming flood, it is more often in our process of realization that true change slowly comes.
At Texas A&M, the coronavirus began as memes and jokes spread around campus. When we became one of the first places in the United States for a positive case to be suspected, it quickly turned into a laughing matter of, “Of course it would be us.” And so, students responded accordingly, with the seriousness of the matter left unsaid and largely misunderstood. As soon as the patient’s test results came back negative, we all quickly returned our attention to life’s normalcy. That was Jan. 26.
In our collegiate ignorance, we couldn’t understand that this was our first little moment – the first little inkling warning us of something bigger. The second one came much later… and with many more repercussions.
Two days off, post-Spring Break. That’s what our emails on March 10 had to say. No longer was this virus just affecting those on study-abroad programs; now this was affecting all of us. This time, we knew there wouldn’t be a quick end. After all, what would two days do if not prepare us for future changes?
When my friends and I boarded a cruise that same day, we thought we would arrive back where we departed. But as pre-dinner conversations began to host teary eyes and club conversations turned to quarantine concerns, our eyes were opened to the harsh truth: we would be coming back to a vastly different world.
From here on out, the little moments came in a rushing river: March 11, when students, faculty and staff in the Schengen area of Europe were asked to return to the U.S. March 12, when classes were postponed and moved online for the rest of the semester (and, consequently, when many student workers lost their jobs). And March 17, when graduation was postponed, finals were transitioned to online and Family Weekend (including Ring Day) was canceled.
As president of my sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, the March 12 move to online-only classes and restrictions against large groups was what truly altered my reality. No gathering with more than 50 people meant no more social events, no more meetings and no more sense of normalcy. Our seniors had attended their last dance, sat in our house for the last time and had their final taste of in-person sisterhood without even knowing it. What would we do about everything we had planned?
I spent a full day surrounded by the darkness of my interior cabin room, scanning through emails from the provost, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, the Memorial Student Center, the Collegiate Panhellenic Council, and Student Activities. While my friends remained up on deck, slowly working to turn their lobster-red skin into golden-brown tans, my burnt body was busy at work compiling lists of information, questions and topics to discuss. While my friends flitted in and out of my room on their various whims, I participated in a two-hour conference call at sea, soberly typing up a page-long Facebook post.
Would girls get refunds? Would girls living in the house have to move out? While my executive board and I waited on answers from our headquarters and the university, we laid out our best guess at structure in the uncertain future. Initiation for our spring member class was deferred, our philanthropy event canceled and votes for a future budget held via electronic survey.
The cruise-line gameshow host tried to pry my phone out of my hands as I responded to one anxious sorority girl after another. My friends quickly snapped back at him, but I had no time to be concerned. Phone securely in hand, I singularly focused on one problem after another, clutching my one connection to this new world.
Still, none of us anticipated how quickly the noose of restrictions would tighten. Less than 24 hours after our ship arrived back in port, Harris County closed all dining rooms and bars to anything besides drive-thru and takeout. And soon enough, Brazos followed suit. Gathering restrictions tightened to include no more than 10 individuals, and, like that, our big/little reveal was canceled, Bible studies were discontinued for the semester, and the sorority house was closed to residents alone. Members came into town only to move out and leave again.
Now, operating in a shelter-in-place, our organization has been limited to a series of three Facebook pages: one for announcements, one for selling sorority merchandise and one for playful conversation. The last was a recent addition, an effort made in hopes that sisterhood wouldn’t be abandoned altogether. We also plan to create small groups for support, but only time will tell their effectiveness, as we all move into a mindset of isolation. Lack of schedule and socialization takes a toll on all of us, but it is a sorority’s backbone. And all we can do is hope that it will improve soon enough, while we make contingency plans for uncharted territory.