By Marisa Mecke ’21 (she/her/hers), Staff Writer
Davidson returned to campus this fall with new measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Masks, weekly testing, and a symptom tracker app, among other changes, feature prominently in the daily lives of students. But during the very first week of the semester, Lauren Do ‘21 was sitting in Zoom class when she noticed one of the students in her course sitting in the library without a mask on. “I could see the stacks right behind him,” Do said with incredulity.
She subsequently reported this student through the campus’s COVID-19 Shared Responsibility Student Reporting Form — one notable feature of Davidson’s attempts to enforce compliance with new regulations.
Perhaps the most student-driven of the prevention measures, this online form is open to students to report individuals violating COVID-19 policies on campus. An email from the Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, Byron McCrae introduced the form to students on August 18th. The form asks students to report inappropriate behavior and to describe the incident, location, and individuals involved. It inquires about the reporter’s reaction and intervention on the scene. It also provides a space to submit photo, audio, and/or video evidence, along with descriptions of observed events.
In an email interview about the Shared Responsibility form, Associate Dean of Students Sarah Buchanan explained that when the Dean of Students Office receives a report, they will assess the concern and determine the necessary actions required to keep students safe.
According to Dean Buchanan, visitors are not bound by this form, and the Dean of Students Office has provided separate guidelines for reporting visitor noncompliance, such as calling Campus Police. The Shared Responsibility Student Reporting form is not intended for reporting faculty, staff, and employees of the college; however, they can use the form to report students.
The Dean’s office created the form in response to multiple “student requests for a way to report concerns and hold students accountable who do not adhere to our shared responsibility.”
In a Davidsonian perspective this past summer, Ashley Ip ‘22, Isabel Padalecki ‘22, and Adelle Patten ‘21 questioned students’ realistic ability to socially distance and called for stricter guidelines on campus in particular. Dean McCrae’s August 18th email introducing the form addressed concerns of social gatherings and students refusing to comply with regulations. He stated that repeated failure and “serious violations” of the COVID-19 guidelines would result in the “student’s removal from campus.”
Removal from campus is not the first, nor the only, consequence of violating health and safety protocols, according to Dean Buchanan. She clarified that every case is different, and the Deans assess each claim individually.
“The only outcomes are warnings or removals, which do not include fines, definite suspension, or indefinite suspension,” Dean Buchanan said. She added that students are only removed from the physical environment if “they’ve evidenced that they cannot adhere to our shared expectations in the physical environment.”
The reporting form further outlines consequences for students removed from campus. These students will continue taking courses online in this case, but they will not receive refunds for room and board.
Davidson’s decision surrounding refunds draws connection to one that some students and community members criticized during UNC-Chapel Hill’s closure. UNC Chapel Hill only offered “50% of the cost of the housing contract” and no refunds for student facilities or activities that they could no longer use.
For off-campus students, however, enforcement of removal may be more difficult — these students could take classes remotely but possibly still socialize with students on campus property unless other students take it upon themselves to report known, removed students.
The UNC outbreak also taps into a central question that arose for college communities this summer: Can students truly maintain social distancing and refrain from partying? The Daily Tarheel, UNC Chapel Hill’s independent student newspaper, denounced the university’s decision to bring students back onto campus and subsequently blame students for the massive outbreaks that forced the campus to close just a week into the semester. In an August 16th editorial statement, the editorial board stated, “We all saw this coming.” They acknowledged that while “students are not faultless,” the university is responsible to effectively enforce protocol on campus.
Davidson’s Shared Responsibility Reporting Form points to a tension in this argument: Students spend much of their time away from the eyes of administrators or Davidson employees. As Lauren Do stated, noncompliance incidents often happen in residential areas — for instance, she has observed “people walking around [Armfield] without masks.”
Do was the only student who agreed to speak publicly with The Davidsonian about her experience using the Shared Responsibility form. Other students did contact editors with stories of retaliation, but they declined to comment further for publication out of concerns of further retaliation.
Do has used the form to report COVID-19 protocol violations on three occasions, but she believes the resource is not widely known — she has friends who had not heard of it and even had to use Google to find it.
In addition to Dean McCrae’s August 18th email, students can access the form on the Davidson College website on the Dean of Students Office page. Do first submitted a report when she witnessed the student in her online class unmasked in the library. She explained that she was motivated to do so because she “was thinking about […] how scary it is coming back.”
Her second report addressed a similar violation. As Do walked into the laundry room of her building, she observed the only person in the room not wearing a mask.
According to Do, the form asks students to share what they did in the moment to address the violation. To her, however, this presents a contradiction.
“My first instinct was to get out of there,” she said. Do did not confront the unmasked student because her immediate reaction was to maintain social distance and to leave the space.
Do took issue with the student intervention section of the form, stating, “I hate that part.” She affirmed that it is important for students to help maintain compliance with guidelines, but that confrontation is difficult since “you don’t always know where someone is mentally.”
The last of Do’s reports dealt with more serious noncompliance than those regarding single instance mask violations. On the evening of Saturday, September 12th, Do observed multiple social media postings and stories of Davidson students socializing at a recognizable off-campus location without masks or distancing. This submission revealed some flaws in the form for Do — she did not submit her name, and the form did not send. This malfunction also erased the photo evidence she had included on the form.
Many students had attended the event Do reported, so she knew that by attaching her name, she was identifying herself to a large group that would receive warnings or potential disciplinary action.
“I’m a senior — I think I’m pretty over worrying about what other people say about me,” Do affirmed.
She acknowledged, however, that the form automatically sends the name of the reporter to the accused party. Based on conversations she has had with friends, Do thinks this is a large disincentive for its usage. Davidson is small, and she has observed tensions between reporting and reported students arise in her social networks.
According to Dean Buchanan, the name requirement is necessary because “The college can’t remove a student without telling them why.” Buchanan explained that in taking action against a student who has violated COVID-19 protocols, the student must be provided “a disclosure or explanation of the evidence (which include the reporting party), and an opportunity to contest the evidence,” according to Section 1 of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Contested cases have occurred — Do reported an acquaintance of her own undergoing the contestation process — and Dean Buchanan said that “students who receive warnings and/or will be removed receive a specific invitation to share any concerns they have about the nature of the submitted report(s).” Moreover, the Dean of Students Office conducts “An analysis […] for each report and more information is gathered as needed.”
Dean Buchanan noted that although the Student Government Association (SGA) raised concerns about retaliation from reported students against those who did the reporting, Dean McCrae addressed this concern in a meeting with SGA. The Davidsonian reached out to members of SGA for further clarification, but they did not respond to comment in time for publication.
The last line of the reporting form states that “retaliation of any kind toward the reporting party is strictly prohibited and is subject to further disciplinary action.”
On a small campus, Do noted, students can find it intimidating to call one another out through such official means, as this can potentially result in ostracism, judgement, and labeling.
“I would not want to be a freshman and use this form,” Do said. The pressure of being “that person that reports everybody,” while trying to make friends despite the obstacles presented by social distancing and fewer social events would be overwhelming.
According to Do, none of her reports, including those with her name attached, received any follow-up aside from a “generic receipt” confirming her form submission.
Rather than using the form, Do has heard of students calling the Residence Life Office (RLO) duty phone and Campus Police instead. Chief Dunn of the Town of Davidson Police stated that he has “no recollection of [the] department responding to a gathering off-campus of Davidson College students, for any ordinance or emergency order violation” recently. The Davidsonian reached out to Campus Police as well but did not receive responses about its COVID guideline enforcement in time for publication.
Concern over enforcement and compliance have not abated. As the COVID-19 Response Team stated in a September 18th email, despite weekly testing, “we can’t relax.” However, this email offered an easing of the resident visitation policy after two weeks of fewer than five active cases, according to the Campus COVID-19 Dashboard.
The updated visitor guideline softened the August 27th announcement that visitors would no longer be permitted in residence halls. Specifically, the new policy clarified that, “each space (single room, double room, suite, or entire apartment) may have up to one visitor total at a time.” These guests must be Davidson students, cannot stay overnight, and, unless this visitor “is your close contact,” they should wear masks inside and stay six feet apart.
As Ip ‘22, Paladecki ‘22, and Patten ‘21 shared in their Perspectives piece this summer, the question remains of whether “some mythical sense of Davidson ‘community’” will translate into a “culture of mutual responsibility” and accountability. This policy change raises a similar question: Can RLO, Campus Police, and the administration realistically monitor and enforce visitor policies?
Do recognized it “could be uncomfortable” to report other students, and she does not blame other students for not using the accountability form. She recalled her hesitancy to attach her name to the form when reporting a large group of students by pointing to the central issue that makes reporting difficult: “I know those people.”