The consequences of COVID-19 violations are not nearly enough

One of the features of Lawrence’s pandemic plan that students have been pushed to use is the COVID-19 Behavior Concern reporting system. This is an online form that allows students to report other members of the Lawrence community for violating rules specific to the pandemic. While this started as a way to empower students to keep their campus safe, it has not done enough to reach this outcome. 

Firstly, let’s talk about how intimidating it is to report someone. Not only do students have to collect the name of the person violating policy, but, to do so, they also have to put themselves into a risky situation. A lot of the time, the violator is not wearing a mask, or even worse, it is a group of people not wearing masks. Regardless, a student has to approach them in order to collect the violator’s information and complete the form, putting themselves at risk for getting sick. 

In addition to this, the form requests that reporters talk to the violator about fixing their violation. This pushes the reporter to linger in the presence of a risky situation even longer, now having to do more than simply ask for a name. It also puts the reporter into a potentially upsetting situation, should the violator become agitated and react in an unsettling way. 

With very little staff-issued monitoring of violations happening around campus, it is left up to students to essentially patrol each other. This is particularly prevalent in common areas, like the Somerset Room in the Warch Campus Center. Although this room was intended to be a safe space for students to eat or hang out with friends, it was quickly taken advantage of last term. From moving chairs from their assigned spots to taking masks off while studying, the room quickly became a hub to get away with bending the COVID-19 rules. Students were then faced with the tough decision of whether or not they should stop what they were doing, walk up to strangers and report violators in front of a room full of their peers. Reasonably, most did not feel comfortable doing this. 

The act of students reporting one another has created tension on campus this past term. Violators are aware they are being reported once the reporter asks for their information and are not happy about this. The relationship between the reporter and violator that ensues is awkward at best and toxic at worst. 

Student employees who work in campus buildings have been especially put into an uncomfortable position this year, particularly Community Advisors (CA). This year, CAs have been asked to report violations anywhere on campus, regardless of whether they are on duty or not. While confrontation is a central part of the position, being asked to do so nonstop on such a widespread scale, has been overwhelming and not what anyone signed up for, to say the least. 

It was only a matter of time before CAs reporting their residents and more, would have a negative effect on community-building. Many residents who have been continually reported have come to resent their CAs and withdraw from involvement in their halls. One CA has reported experiencing harassment from residents they reported numerous times. Another reports parents and coaches getting upset with the CA for filing constant reports. Yet the residents were still allowed to remain in the hall and continue to violate policies. 

While reporting their peers is not an easy thing to do for any college student, many believed it was worth it to keep campus safe. However, it is difficult to tell whether this has actually had a substantial impact. To many, it feels like the trouble was not worth it at all. 

Over these past few weeks, CAs watched residents who had racked up numerous violations the previous term move back in for a second term this year. Similarly, students who took the initiative to report the violations they witnessed around campus are noticing that students notorious for violations are still here. 

While Lawrence managed to scrape by with only a few spikes in cases last term, Winter Term calls for much more diligence in order to achieve those same results. With violations now occurring indoors at a significantly higher rate than before, they are likely to have much more dire consequences than last term. 

Recently, news broke out on the notorious Shoutbox Facebook page about the hockey team throwing off-campus parties. No action was taken, and there is nothing stopping this from continuing throughout Winter Term. 

We are far past the point of students with handfuls of violations having made simple mistakes. We are far past the point of students being unaware of the rules. It is time for accountability. 

Students who continue to violate the pandemic policies are a danger to other students, staff members and employees. For the safety of others, they should not be on campus. 

While I recognize the possibility for action to be taken against notorious violators this term and the talk of using the Judicial Board, these actions are taking place far too long after the impact of these violations have been made. Rather than preventing the spread of COVID-19 through early intervention, taking action a term later feels like an afterthought.   

Students and staff who are working hard to follow guidelines deserve a safer campus than this.