A Bwog investigation revealed the presence of multiple members of the sorority Sigma Delta Tau’s leadership at a prohibited off-campus party that went viral the weekend of February 6–7, along with allegations of the fraternity Sigma Nu holding multiple prohibited parties since the 2021 semester began.
“I hope that I’m showing my young audience that you can have safe parties in a pandemic… more like a safe small gathering, that sounds so much better I guess.”
This quote is from current Columbia student (CC’21) and TikTok influencer Gabriela Vascimini, known by @gab_nyc on her popular account with more than 100k followers, on a TikTok livestream following backlash regarding a recent video. The original video has since been taken down, but it was uploaded on February 7th and it displayed a birthday party thrown sometime during the weekend of February 6–7 with, as Vascimini specified, “less than ten” people in attendance. Guests are shown having their temperatures checked, but no one in the video is shown to be wearing a mask or keeping six feet away from each other. The unedited TikTok can be viewed here. The TikTok of the party quickly spread through Columbia social media channels, and multiple confessions, presumably about the party, were posted to Columbia Confessions, a popular Facebook group where students can send anonymous “confessions.”
Multiple leadership members in the Columbia chapter of the sorority Sigma Delta Tau (SDT) were identified by numerous corroborated sources in the original TikTok of the party. These include the President, Vice President, Philanthropy Officer, and Panhellenic Representative. Vascimini runs Public Relations for the chapter. According to an anonymous source within SDT, “I found out about these parties through that TikTok just like everyone else. Most SDT sisters weren’t invited and didn’t have knowledge of that party.” The source also said that “the parties that have been happening don’t have anything to do with SDT as an organization directly, but it’s true enough to say that individual members (disappointingly some of whom are leadership) have been going to events. Within SDT, it’s been a really big issue as the majority of our sisters were uncomfortable with [the party attendees’] actions.”
After the original TikTok provoked ire online, Vascimini appeared in a livestream on TikTok on February 7 to address the backlash, claiming “it’s not a mistake…it’s not breaking the guidelines, I am not part of like on-campus Columbia [sic] so I don’t have to adhere to the guidelines but I still do anyway because I think it’s right.” She claimed that “10 people is a safe gathering that is the amount you can have—I think you can actually have 16.” New York State guidelines do limit gatherings at private residences to 10 people, but according to the Columbia Enhanced Health and Safety Policy, “…[T]ransmission of COVID-19 poses a threat to the health of other members of our community, actions both on and off-campus that risk exposing our community to COVID-19 are prohibited by University policy governing student conduct…. This includes interactions between students inside off-campus apartments and in other off-campus settings, both indoors and outside.”
When asked about the possibility of a safe party, a University spokesperson said, “Any social event is about mitigating risk and it is critical that we continue to work together and maintain best practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community and neighborhoods. All social gatherings, on or off campus, must follow the University’s event policy, including being 10 or less participants and always wear face coverings and maintain physical distance. These remain in effect and all members of our community are expected to follow them, including students who are vaccinated.”
An apology to SDT members was released by leadership after the TikTok went viral on February 9 at 7:23 pm. Per our source in SDT, “it’s my belief that if more of us had known about it prior we could’ve talked some sense into members who went and prevented it from happening in the first place. It’s really a shame.” The full text of the apology letter can be found at the bottom of this article. SDT leadership and Vascimini have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Georgina Spence, President of Columbia University Panhellenic, said that “we have no control over the social events of the chapters…we expect that everyone is on their best behavior, however, any sort of action that could result in punishment or things like that or breaking a compact means that they have to go through a judicial review, which is completely separate from Panhellenic.” According to Spence, InterGreek Council, which is the next step up in Greek Life leadership from Panhellenic, “has not convened this year,” and “there’s no one this could be reported to aside from a judicial review.”
The problem, however, is not limited to one party with involvement from one sorority. Bwog has been tipped about multiple Greek Life organizations that have been rumored to be hosting parties during the pandemic, and that are rumored to have been doing so since last semester. Spence noted that “…we’re aware [of the rumors], but it’s not because someone has formally told us, it’s because, well, everyone is aware… People know and people ask about it but no one has made an official comment. I knew because of Columbia Confessions and I’m sure a lot of other people found out that way as well.”
The fraternity Sigma Nu has been alleged by multiple sources—kept anonymous to protect their privacy—to Bwog of throwing at least three parties since the 2021 semester began. According to these sources’ accounts, which Bwog has corroborated with each other, these parties have been attended by 15 to 30+ people and tended to be quite loud. Two sources claimed that partygoers would be greeted with “nice to meet you,” indicating they had not formed a bubble with the hosts. Few people wore masks; however, according to a source, “you can’t have 30-person gatherings regardless of precaution.” It’s “very likely,” according to that same source, that Sigma Nu leadership is aware of what’s happening. The brothers allegedly throwing these parties have been reported to Columbia, but sources were unaware of any concrete actions taken. (No videos or photos of these parties could be found, and the brothers have not responded to requests for comment.) As of this article’s publication, Sigma Nu leadership has not responded to repeated requests for comment, and the Interfraternity Council could not be reached for comment. The University declined to comment on any disciplinary actions regarding individual students.
People are experiencing a rise in anxiety and depression nationwide. According to the 2020 Stress in America Survey, conducted by Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association between August 4th and 26th, 19% – nearly 1 in 5 – of adults say their mental health is worse than August 2019. For people in Generation Z (adults age 18-23) the percentage jumps up to 34%. 63% of Generation Z adults reported feeling “very lonely in the pandemic.” Vascimini said herself that “the pandemic doesn’t have to make us all, like, antisocial and Zoom is not, like, cutting it, sorry.”
But the pandemic is far from over, and hosting and attending large gatherings is still a risk for spreading and contracting the virus. In November, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo identified house parties as a “great spreader” according to contact tracing efforts. If safety measures are not taken now, it could prolong the pandemic—and cause more infections and deaths—to a degree which is currently unknown. Three emerging variant strains (one of them is agreed to be 50% more transmissible and all three of them possess “escape mutations” that are believed to help the virus evade the immune system) have been detected in the United States and pose a genuine threat. And as New York City opens indoor dining, there is a growing concern that, according to Georgetown’s Dr. Angela Rasmussen, “the worst could be yet to come.”
“Even with smaller social events where students are not wearing face coverings and keeping physical distance, the University has seen the spread of COVID-19. Social settings that involve eating and drinking have a greater likelihood of infection,” said the University Spokesperson. “Overall, our contact tracing efforts show that most positive cases on our campus occur as a result of a known exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This has occurred in household settings during small, unmasked indoor gatherings or meals, and due to travel, which is currently suspended except in emergency situations.”
“There are so many underground parties,” according to Vascimini in her live video. “Every single weekend there are multiple parties going on with like 50+ people in attendance. Like full on frat party… so I had a safe party.”
Statement from the Bwog Editorial Board regarding the identification of party attendees: Our intention, in posting this article without specific names of every member in [SDT] leadership, was to advance the critical discussion of COVID-19 behaviors on campus and the idea that recklessness in a pandemic is a pervasive problem afflicting our University, rather than to pinpoint this as an issue with a few individuals. This is one party on one weekend and not a problem confined to SDT itself. Bwog condemns the breaking of Columbia’s COVID community compact, and we stand for science.
Read the full apology sent to SDT members from leadership below:
“We write this letter to you, our sisters, to say that we are all truly sorry. We deeply apologize for the ways in which our actions as individuals have unintentionally impacted our chapter. We know that many of you have had to defend SDT to others even though the events in question did not have anything to do directly with this organization; you should never be called upon to do that and your leadership, especially, should not be putting you in that situation.
The issues regarding events that transpired this weekend were two-fold: that of acting insensitively within the context of the global pandemic and that of openly publicizing ostentatious behavior. These do not reflect Sigma Delta Tau’s values and we misrepresented our chapter through our actions. We recognize that many of our sisters have been personally affected by the pandemic and we know that we need to show greater empathy and responsibility to you and to the greater Columbia community.
For those of you who felt that your voices were silenced or went unheard during chapter –– we hear you and we respect you. The disappointment you feel is more than merited and we have come to understand the incredibly difficult position we have put you in. Our actions may have undermined your trust in the leadership of SDT. As the chapter’s leaders, you should hold us to a high standard and we need to meet that standard no matter the time or place. We will strive to do better every day.
We have spent a lot of time talking together, as well as with the greater EBoard, about our actions. Please know that we are sincerely committed to being the leaders that you want and deserve. Continue to hold us accountable and voice your opinions. And we hope that in time, as you see our daily actions in support of SDT, we can earn back your trust and respect.”
Image via Ashley Canales