However, with cases of coronavirus surfacing on campus and forcing some schools to empty their dorms or switch to virtual classes, one factor cannot be ignored: students love to party. And good luck with cleaning.
College presidents, student leaders, and local officials try different approaches. Some – like the President of the University of Maryland – stop by popular bars near campus to put masks on students outside and remind them to stay safe. Others try to stop socializing altogether or to abuse fraternities that throw parties. Others have gone so far as to kick students out for breaking rules. All of this has created new tensions over who is really to blame.
Some of the punishments and scolding have enraged students who argue that administrators should be held accountable if the virus spreads on a campus they want to reopen in the middle of a pandemic.
When West Virginia University temporarily moved classes online this month, President E. Gordon Gee blamed the “selfish decisions” of some students for a surge in cases. “If safety protocols had been followed and large gatherings of students had not been held who ruthlessly disregarded their fellow students and parishioners,” Gee wrote in a recent message to the campus, “we could not find ourselves in this situation.”
This week, WVU announced that it would resume face-to-face classes on Monday and commended the students for following the safety guidelines. The school also said about 120 students are facing coronavirus-related sanctions. Of these, 24 students were suspended and one was expelled and received no tuition and tuition reimbursements according to the student code.
The number of coronavirus cases has remained low in many schools so far, even among students who live on campus. With the knowledge that cases can rise rapidly – and given the health of the surrounding communities, as well as students, faculties, and staff – how best to encourage or enforce compliance with public health guidelines is deadly urgent.
Brian Casey, president of Colgate University, said the concern is that students will give up their vigilance and believe that a party will have no effect.
“What we’re going to tell them is – it will,” Casey said. “We have seen other campuses where one or two major parties are radically causing infections.”
When NC State switched to online-only classes for students last month, the school’s chancellor pointed out that there had been big parties in off-campus homes and that some of the clusters were due to Greek life. Randy Woodson wrote that “the actions of a few endanger the health and safety of the larger community”.
This provoked fraternities and sorority anger among some students and setbacks among members of the Greek community. Jenio, a columnist for Technician, a campus newspaper, wrote that Greek life should not be the government’s scapegoat.
At the beginning of the school year, it was clear that switching to virtual was inevitable, Jenio said in an interview. Jenio, a junior major in life sciences, said he saw students “go out and party on the grounds that the school is closing anyway, might as well hang out before that happens”.
But even when individuals made questionable decisions, he said the school brought students back to live in confined spaces.
Two sorority members described the violent backlash against Greek life after the change, with people yelling and abusing them and belittling them in class.
“We knew there was no way this would work the second we got back,” said Sydney Brittain, senior at NC State. According to the Chancellor’s announcement, she was getting coffee when someone saw the sorority sticker on her car and threw coffee at her. She closed her Twitter account after people did things like “Go kill yourself.”
Shilpa Giri, another student journalist at NC State, countered that fraternities and sororities should apologize: “Greek life, accept your bad choices and fix them.”
NC State officials announced this week that the school plans to offer some personal classes and individual dormitories for the spring semester only, and that this semester they learned that the coronavirus is quickly spreading through social gatherings such as parties and communal living spaces with can spread double room.
Many universities have penalized students after parties, gatherings, or other violations, including Northeastern University. The school spent more than $ 50 million preparing to reopen this fall. This included building a test system, redesigning the food facility, and adding 1,500 beds across campus to reduce density.
Northeastern fired eleven students who had gathered in a hotel room in Boston earlier in the semester. University officials say students will be able to resume classes in January. The school had previously threatened to withdraw admission offers for students who posted on social media about plans for parties. Northeastern has also set up a guess line for people who want to report behavioral concerns and a team to monitor the campus area.
According to experts, university leaders face a delicate balance in managing the enforcement of rules. The need for clear consequences, but not the kind of excessive shame research has shown, can backfire.
Anna Song, an associate professor of health psychology at the University of California at Merced who studies risk-taking and decision-making in teenagers and young adults, said that students ages 18-21 are essentially wired to make social connections.
It’s a time when they learn to be in a group but have autonomy, navigate independence, and build meaningful, lasting relationships among adults, she said – and now everyone is saying not to get together.
Research has shown that the brain usually continues developing by your mid-20s, Song said. “The parts that develop in this phase help us make decisions, plan, control our impulses – and those are the things you really need in this pandemic.”
Many schools asked students to help plan efforts to reopen safely. At the U-Md. Remind student leaders, including members of each fraternity and sorority, friends of the rules.
Dan Alpert, president of the student body at U-Md., Said the students took action in a variety of ways, including a fraternity leader working to put together a team of people who hand out the masks and remind people, not crowds Form in Downtown College Park.
“It’s not just the students’ fault,” Alpert said. “The state, the county, the community and the school can always do more.”
Some students have told others that they want to stay on campus and not be forced home by an outbreak.
At schools like Lehigh, Texas Tech, Sam Houston, Purdue, Tulane, and Marshall Universities, disgruntled students have used social media to expose people who violate the rules.
A Texas A&M student account shared photos of gatherings on Twitter, such as people playing beer pong, fraternity members putting their arms around each other, and people standing in line for concert tickets.
In an appearance on Tuesday at Texas A&M, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx praised students’ efforts to keep the school’s infection rate down to one of the lowest levels the school claims when visiting this semester on the college campus.
Some local communities have also stepped up enforcement after complaints about student parties.
In College Park, Md., The city council recently approved a substantial increase in fines from $ 50 to $ 1,000 for people who threaten the health and safety of the community. Landlords previously faced a $ 75 fine for failing to provide tenants’ names when requested by the city – whether for contact tracing or after parties or other coronavirus-related restriction violations – can now charge $ 1,000 per day until they meet requirements, said city mayor Patrick Wojahn.
U-Md. President Darryll Pines has been walking through College Park for the last few weekend nights to get his own perspective on student behavior. Route 1 – a major thoroughfare near campus – is full of students happy to be back, Pines said, but 90 percent of them are wearing masks and keeping their distance.
When he saw some faceless students recently one night, Pines introduced himself, offered them Terrapin-themed masks, and took a selfie with them. “It was a great way to be in friendly contact with the students,” he said, reiterating the idea that “we need to stay apart so we can stay together longer.”
The President of Colgate University was also friendly. When the school’s mandatory quarantine began, Casey also hid in a dormitory for two weeks. “We are asking students to do something very hard,” he said. “You don’t ask anyone to do something you don’t want to do yourself.”
So he stayed in the small room, had food delivered in a box, went outside for a limited time, and got used to students shouting hello in his first-floor window. It was hot and noisy, especially when he was trying to sleep. It wasn’t just the music and talking and laughing that kept him awake, but also the explosions – from video games being played in nearby rooms.
“I can’t wait to get back to my home – my dog - my coffee machine,” he said from quarantine earlier this month.
Even so, he said it was important and surprisingly uplifting to be there. He could see how excited students should be to be back on campus and how seriously many took to heart the school’s message that it would take a collective effort to stay on campus.
Students have an incredibly hard time staying apart, he noted. They instinctively want to be close to each other, they want to talk to each other. “We have people who help,” he said, “with six-foot sticks.”
And they enforced the rules. The school had already removed students from campus. There was even a little party in the dorm where he was staying.
“I wasn’t invited,” he said with a laugh. “Give them some credit.”