As they struggle to salvage some semblance of a campus experience this fall, U.S. colleges are requiring promises from students to help contain the coronavirus — no keg parties, no long road trips and no outside guests on campus.
No kidding. Administrators warn that failure to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid mass gatherings could bring serious consequences, including getting booted from school.
Critics question whether it’s realistic to demand that college students not act like typical college students. But the push illustrates the high stakes for universities planning to welcome at least some students back. Wide-scale COVID-19 testing, quarantines and plexiglass barriers in classrooms won’t work if too many students misbehave.
“I think that the majority of students are going to be really respectful and wear their masks, social distance, keep gatherings small,” said incoming Tulane University senior Sanjali De Silva. “But I fear that there will be a distinct group of students that will decide not to do that. And it’ll be a big bummer.”
Tulane students have already received a stark warning from the school in New Orleans, an early pandemic hot spot. After a summer weekend of large gatherings, Dean of Students Erica Woodley wrote to students, stressing her key point in bold, capital letters.
“DO NOT HOST PARTIES OR GATHERINGS WITH MORE THAN 15 PEOPLE, INCLUDING THE HOST. IF YOU DO, YOU WILL FACE SUSPENSION OR EXPULSION FROM THE UNIVERSITY,” Woodley wrote, signing off with, “Do you really want to be the reason that Tulane and New Orleans have to shut down again?”
The emphasis on student behavior is part of a broader effort to create safe bubbles on campus even if the virus surges elsewhere.
The University of Texas at Austin is not allowing parties either on or off campus. In Massachusetts, Amherst College is prohibiting students from traveling off campus except in certain cases, such as medical appointments and family emergencies.
Many universities have spelled out expectations for student behavior in pledges and compacts that cover everything from mask wearing to off-campus travel. The pledges often cover faculty and staff, too.
It’s unclear how well these rules will work.
Critics say the very nature of the college experience — with cramped housing and intense social activity — works against success. Some colleges are already backing off plans for in-person classes this fall.
“The majority of kids who go to college are civic-minded, responsible people. They’re also young,” said Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at New York University. “If some of them don’t comply, it’s a problem. And I think some to many will have a difficult time ignoring every instinct pulsing through their body at that age that they’re supposed to socialize and find mates.”
Galloway plans to teach online this fall and return to campus when there’s a vaccine.
Outbreaks involving fraternities have already been reported at some schools, including the University of Southern California, the University of Washington and the University of Mississippi. The University of California at Berkeley recently decided to begin the fall semester with fully remote instruction after a local flare-up of cases linked to fraternity parties.