College students knew that returning to school for in-person classes this fall would be unlike any other semester – after all, Covid-19 testing, social distancing and mask wearing have become the new normal.
But as thousands of students return to campuses, and in spite of the risks, some are proving the urge to socialize and party too tempting to resist. At least 15 states are reporting positive cases of Covid-19 at colleges and universities. As a result, some schools are reversing their decision to hold in-person classes for the whole fall semester.
Duncan Donahue is a junior at the University of Notre Dame living off campus. He describes refreshing his university’s Covid-19 case tracking dashboard as “harrowing.”
Now that his university halted in-person classes for two weeks in an attempt to curtail the rising number of Covid-19 cases, which have surpassed 300 as of Thursday, Donahue has mixed feelings about the parties his classmates threw.
“We’ve all been cooped up for six months and not been able to enjoy certain social events that we normally do. And so, I think that for a lot of students, coming back to Notre Dame was sort of like a chance to return to normalcy” Donahue told CNN. “Obviously that’s a terrible idea, but I sympathize with the idea.”
When Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C announced the university’s decision, he addressed why students so far had not been punished for reporting parties.
“We have a policy that information gained through such inquiries will not be used in any disciplinary action. We will continue to adhere to this policy because we want students to be forthright with us, so that we can discover the source of the infections in order to keep the community safe” Jenkins said on Tuesday.
“If, however, we learn a serious violation of our policies from other sources we will take disciplinary action” Jenkins added, stating that several reports of this nature have already been submitted and are under review by the university conduct process.
Eviction notices and self-quarantines
As universities across the country see an increase in cases after opening their doors, a concerted effort has been placed on shutting down parties and enforcing social distancing.
Several students at the University of Connecticut were evicted from their dorms when the university learned that students had an unapproved party that ignored social distancing rules in a residence hall.
“It’s something everyone coming back to campus knew would happen,” editor-in-chief of the Daily Campus, UConn’s student newspaper, Peter Fenteany told CNN about the parties. “But it’s not something that I expected on the first weekend.”
UConn’s Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, Eleanor JB Daugherty, and Executive Director of Residential Life, Pamela Schipani, sent a letter to the community on Tuesday recounting the party.
“According to the report we reviewed this morning, students were not wearing masks, closely assembled, and endangering not only their own health and wellbeing, but that of others at a time when UConn is working to protect our community and resume classes in the context of a deadly global pandemic,” Daugherty and Schipani wrote.
Since students returned to campus on August 14, 12 residential students who live on Storrs Campus have coronavirus, according to the university’s Covid-19 dashboard, eight of whom tested positive upon arrival. Two off-campus students and two faculty and staff have also tested positive. An additional 25 students are self-quarantining after potential exposure as of Tuesday, according to UConn deputy spokesman, Michael Enright.
At Syracuse University in New York, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation J. Michael Haynie wrote a letter on Thursday admonishing students after learning about a party on campus.
“Last night, a large group of first-year students selfishly jeopardized the very thing that so many of you claim to want from Syracuse University – that is, a chance at a residential college experience,” Haynie wrote. “I say this because the students who gathered on the Quad last night may have done damage enough to shut down campus, including residence calls and in-person learning, before the academic semester even begins.”
Haynie referred to the behavior of the partiers as “selfish and unsettling” and said that the university’s Department of Public Safety is reviewing security camera video to try to identify students who were there.
“The world is watching, and they expect you to fail. Prove them wrong. Be better. Be adults,” he wrote.
Since students returned to campus, the university has reported 13 cases of Covid as of Tuesday, and ten students are currently in quarantine.
Boston City Councilor Liz Breadon, whose district encompasses Boston College and Boston University, wrote a letter to the presidents of both institutions ahead of their fall semesters to share her concerns about how universities could enforce social distancing amongst students off campus.
“People coming to Massachusetts must quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative Covid-19 test administered 72 hours before arrival. The penalty for non-compliance is a $500 fine, yet I have little confidence that we can enforce this regulation for returning students living off campus,” Breadon wrote.
“It is of great concern to residents of Allston-Brighton that off-campus students are already returning from numerous places around the country which are experiencing out-of-control surges in infections, and that many people are asymptomatic while spreading infections to others” she added.
Boston University Assistant Vice President Rachel Lapal shared the university’s response to Breadon’s concerns.
“Boston University continues to be in close communication with Councilor Breadon and her office as students return to campus and the local community” the statement read. “Students, both on campus and in neighboring communities, who fail to meet these health expectations and commitments will be prohibited from full participation in the BU community.
Penn State University President Thursday warned gatherings on campus of those not wearing masks or practicing physical distancing is unacceptable and will not be tolerated after reports and video surfaced of students appearing to flout campus rules amid the pandemic.
A video obtained by CNN appears to show college students gathered on Penn State campus Wednesday evening – appearing in close proximity. Masks are visible on some of the students seen from a distance in the video provided to CNN.
Penn State University president Eric Barron in a stern message said, “I ask students flouting the University’s health and safety expectations a simple question: Do you want to be the person responsible for sending everyone home?”
CNN’s Elizabeth Stuart, Kristina Sgueglia and Brynn Gingras contributed to this report.