As classes kick off at Middle Tennessee State University this week, returning students living in residence halls and frequenting high-traffic locations are receiving some extra protection in the university’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The graduate chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. sorority partnered with university administrative offices to make and distribute 5,000 COVID-19 care packages containing hand sanitizer, wipes, MT Strong face masks, FAQ booklets and other COVID-19 information.
Dozens of students, faculty, staff and community supporters gathered Friday on the track level of Murphy Center to hold a “packing party,” preparing the packages to send to campus residence halls as well as various academic units, high-traffic facilities such as the James E. Walker Library, and student organizations to distribute as needed.
The idea was the brainchild of the graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. The university and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life office helped the sorority by coordinating campus and community volunteers to assemble the packages and provide the items to be inserted.
MTSU alumna LaShan Dixon, graduate adviser for the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, came up with the initial idea of doing something for the undergraduate sorority members and presented it to President Sidney A. McPhee, who expanded the effort to include students throughout campus.
“We were able to really come together. … I’m really thankful for all of the support,” Dixon said. “As soon as we pack them, they are going out.”
Dixon, who is assistant county director of the Rutherford County Health Department, earned her bachelor’s, master’s and two graduate certificates from MTSU. She recently was announced as the recipient of the 2020 Young Alumni Achievement Award, given to a graduate age 35 or younger making a positive impact in the world.
Leslie Merritt, director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said her office was happy to collaborate on the project “to make sure we could get the manpower we needed, through community, staff and student volunteers, to package 5,000 (boxes) so that they would be ready to distribute on the first day of classes.”
Merritt said the FSL, like the rest of the university, has made significant adjustments to its activities in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has greatly limited the personal interactions that traditionally are the lifeblood of Greek organizations.
“What we’ve been saying heading into fall 2020 is that ‘different doesn’t mean bad,’” said Merritt, adding that some process changes over the summer due to coronavirus will likely continue because they were more efficient.
“As far as our members, brotherhood and sisterhood is one of the greatest benefits, but that doesn’t stop because we can’t be together physically. That’s what’s held a lot of people together during this difficult time, because they know they have those brothers and sisters to lean on.”
Like many other activities, Greek life recruitment has gone virtual for fall semester. MTSU’s fall classes began Aug. 24 with a mix of in-person, online and hybrid classes. Masks or face coverings are required inside all buildings.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)