The majority of us have been trying our best to follow the College’s COVID-19 guidelines: social distancing, wearing masks, not allowing guests in our dorms and using Peirce Dining Hall’s “grab-and-go” system. Now that some of these guidelines have loosened as the two-week “quiet period” of quarantining is over, a false sense of normalcy has begun to set in among students. Many are taking advantage of this by throwing parties or wearing their masks as a chin strap while walking down Middle Path.
If Kenyon wants to avoid an outbreak on campus, they need to start punishing those who are breaking the rules and publicizing what those punishments could be so that they are clear.
As much as we want to trust our community, it’s inevitable that the more normal life feels, the more people are going to ignore restrictions. If this kind of negligence continues, there is no question that an outbreak will occur. Large parties will become more frequent, and the use of masks and social distancing protocols will be seen as less important. People will think that if there hasn’t been an outbreak on campus yet, there won’t be one at all. The school needs to enforce their policies regarding COVID-19 more rigorously and impose concrete punishments for those straight-out refusing to abide by school policy.
Kenyon has specifically stated they prefer to rely on collective accountability rather than policing mask-wearing. The issue with this is that if those on campus aren’t facing real punishment, they are less likely to care about following the rules. Therefore, there needs to be some sort of repercussion for those blatantly refusing to wear a mask or social distancing. If a party of over 10 people is shut down by Campus Safety, those involved should get a warning, with their names noted. If another party of theirs is discovered, there should be grounds for suspension. The penalty system should begin with warnings, with expulsion or even legal action being the last options.
I want to be clear that, most of the time, when someone isn’t wearing a mask outside, it’s not because they are actively trying to disregard COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Rather, they might believe that not wearing a mask on Middle Path isn’t going to spread the virus. An email and posting on the school’s website with a clear headline like “COVID-19 Policy Reminders” will help to ensure that all people walking on Middle Path know to wear a mask. As for those flat-out refusing to follow the rules, a punishment should be in place. Students will throw parties no matter what, but punishments may at least curb massive ones where the risk of spreading the virus is exponentially higher. If the administration makes it clear that there will be punishments, students may be more careful when they have social events.
In suggesting that the administration institute some sort of penalty system for students actively ignoring COVID-19 guidelines, I understand there is a concern that punishments may be taken too far. Indeed, some schools are burdening students with overly harsh punishments for not obeying guidelines. Last week, 11 students were suspended for the fall semester from Northeastern University for breaking social distancing guidelines. These students paid $36,500 for the semester and will not be refunded. While students do have a responsibility to follow guidelines as best they can, Northeastern’s punishment was far too harsh, and students should not be forced to pay for an education they did not receive.
The students at Northeastern didn’t even have a full understanding of what the repercussions might be if they weren’t social distancing. Colleges reopened during a tumultuous time thinking that they could trust thousands of young adults, arguably the most irresponsible age group, to handle the stressors of going to school in the middle of a pandemic.
In order to ensure that students do not act recklessly, the College should make clear the exact repercussions that will come of breaking the rules. Moreover, in addition to instituting penalties for students on campus actively breaking COVID-19 guidelines, the administration should also work with the Village to see that the wider Gambier community adheres to similar expectations. I have had a number of interactions at Gambier businesses in which residents failed to properly follow COVID-19 regulations — wearing their masks below the nose being the most common.
Obviously, the school cannot reprimand Village residents who refuse to follow the rules in the same way they reprimand students. Instead, I would suggest keeping boxes of masks in public spaces, so those visiting or not affiliated directly with Kenyon may be able to grab one easily. If Kenyon wants to avoid an outbreak on campus, they should be working hand-in-hand with Gambier businesses to ensure that they are doing everything they can to maintain safe practices. That dialogue needs to be open and direct, and, from what I’ve seen, I doubt it even exists at this moment in time. Starting one needs to be a priority.
The responsibility of preventing an outbreak on campus can’t be placed solely on students; it should be a shared responsibility between students, administration, faculty and Gambier residents. But Kenyon needs to step up and impose punitive measures for those on campus who refuse to follow guidelines, and make those punishments exceptionally clear. Otherwise, residents on campus will continue to take advantage of loosened restrictions and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19, with no punishment to deter them.