A Nightmare on Hilyard Street

UO Greek Life has partied on despite COVID-19

Screenshot of campus party via the @covid.campus Instagram allegedly posted to Snapchat by a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon

On Nov. 7, as Oregon prepared to play their first game of the football season against Stanford, another pregame preparation was happening just a few miles from Autzen Stadium.

More than 200 students gathered at two popular party houses located near 14th and Hilyard, less than a block from where COVID positive patients lay recovering at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center. Photos and videos posted on social media show the students in close proximity without masks. 

While the university has refused to attribute the party to the University of Oregon Greek system, multiple reports on social media and even from the Greek system have conflicted with university statements. 

Jack Plew, the vice president of the Sigma Chi Alpha fraternity, says that a lot of the people at the party were a part of the Greek Life community and that his fraternity is aware that multiple Sigma Chi members were at the party. 

“Some of the older members of our house did actually go to the tailgate, a poor decision but an individual one, nonetheless. We made it clear that we are against that and brought those people in to talk to,” Plew says. “We told them moving forward we don’t want to see anything like this again.”

A Sigma Chi member posted a since-deleted video of the party on TikTok that shows multiple other members from Sigma Chi at the party as well. The Sigma Chi member who posted the video declined to comment.

While 35 percent of all current outbreak-related cases in Lane County are attributed to the UO Greek system, according to Lane County Public Health, university officials have continuously cautioned against blaming just one group. 

In a written statement, Dean of Students Kris Winter says, “We are working to gather information about the incident, which appears to have occurred at privately owned residences off-campus. We do not know that the event was associated with any specific student group and caution anyone from assigning responsibility to fraternities, sororities or any other campus groups.”

The party took place about midway on the 600 block of E. 14th Avenue at two off-campus houses known as “The Orchard” and “The Hills.” The houses are popular for day parties because of their large backyards. Multiple sources close to Greek Life confirmed that while The Orchard isn’t affiliated with a Greek house this year, The Hills is a Lambda Chi Alpha “live-out.”

Live-outs are privately-owned off-campus homes that are rented by Greek members no longer living in chapter houses. While the inhabitants are often in the Greek community, the houses are privately-owned, which allows fraternities and sororities to throw parties without it being connected or affiliated with a certain chapter. 

One fraternity member that attended the party, who wished to remain anonymous because being identified “could jeopardize both friendships and my business,” says he first found out about the party from videos posted on Snapchat. He says The Hills seemed to be predominantly Greek Life, as is a Lambda Chi Alpha live-out, but that he wasn’t sure about The Orchard, as it is unaffiliated. The fraternity member says The Orchard is a “notoriously large tailgate location,” and many people show up without any invitation. 

While the university has warned the Greek Life community about consequences for parties or large gatherings, Plew says it hasn’t followed through on punishments.

“For the fraternities that have been involved with throwing parties there haven’t been many consequences,” Plew says. “From my perspective, it’s almost a double-edged sword. While I am a part of Greek Life and don’t want to see other organizations deal with sanctions, I also think it’s important for people to realize that not only will their actions have consequences with the school but also the community as a whole.”

According to Eugene Police Department spokesperson Melinda McLaughlin, EPD officers responded “to a loud party of approximately 200-plus college-aged individuals at two adjacent residences” at 5:47 pm. The report states that almost none of the partygoers were wearing masks or social distancing and that a resident asked for police to help disperse attendees in the backyard area. One attendee, who is a former Sigma Chi member, refused to leave and was subsequently arrested. 

University of Oregon Police Department spokesperson Saul Hubbard says that a UOPD sergeant visited both addresses last week to warn residents about their behavior and caution them about hosting additional gatherings.

In a written statement, Mayor Lucy Vinis says, “I didn’t know about the party and am deeply saddened and frustrated that people would disregard public health advice and hold large gatherings. This not only puts the people at the party at risk, but those they come in contact with.”

On Nov. 7, the day of the 200-plus person gathering, Oregon’s weekly case average was 667. As of Nov. 30, the weekly case average is 1,312. A two-week coronavirus freeze went into effect on Nov. 18 that limits all social gatherings to six people or less. New regulations that go into effect on Dec. 2 will continue to limit gatherings to six people or less.

This story has been updated.

Per the request of a resident of one of the homes that hosted the 200 person party during a global pandemic who said listing the addresses of The Orchard and The Hills made them “very uncomfortable,” EW has removed the addresses.

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