Overall, this was a good weekend. I want to acknowledge and thank the vast majority of our students who are doing the right thing. You are finding ways to socialize, be with friends, and have fun. Thank you for being great Denisonians and caring about this college. But, as I write below, we have a smaller group who are pushing the boundaries, especially on Beaver Beach and inside certain residential halls. We have started to send those students home and will continue to do so until we only have students on campus who are 100% committed to the community guidelines 100% of the time.
The current guidelines are as follows:
- Restricting Indoors Gatherings: No socializing in dorm rooms/apartments - that means only roommates/apartment mates permitted, no guests. Gatherings in res hall common spaces (or anywhere indoors) should not be larger than 10 people. In some cases, common spaces are small, and rooms are marked for less capacity.
- Restricting Unnecessary Travel: No office campus travel except for that which is necessary - that means no travel to bars or restaurants off campus or to other campuses/universities.
- Practicing Physical Distancing and Mask Wearing: Maintain six feet of distance, including outdoors. If distance can’t be maintained outdoors, masks must be worn. Socializing in groups of 10 outdoors is permitted and encouraged but distance between individuals and groups should be maintained.
We have sent students home for violating the community agreement guidelines and we have other cases that will be processed today and tomorrow. A number of students and parents have written to me asking for the college to give students a second chance. Some students have suggested a three-strike rule. We are not going down that road.
We are trying to keep the campus open during a global pandemic and we are doing it in a country that has been unable to control the COVID virus. We only have two paths: we can shut down the campus and go remote until COVID passes, or we can open the campus only to students who are 100% committed to following the community guidelines 100% of the time. We are taking the latter path.
Living on campus is a privilege, not a right. It is not something you purchase by paying your bill, it is something you earn by following the community guidelines. Infractions of the COVID community guidelines are being heard by a Community Care Council of students, faculty and staff. Their decisions are final. I am not going to overturn the Council. They are working to protect the community. I respect the decisions they make.
People can write to me, but in most cases you will not receive a reply. We are not debating our guidelines or our enforcement of them. We need every student to respect them and to follow them. No student should even get close to the line. Don’t push the boundaries. We have put these boundaries into place because they are the only thing that will allow us to keep the campus open.
The biggest issues are on Beaver Beach. We need behaviors on Beaver Beach to change. We have increased the number of staff on campus at night. They have been monitoring Beaver Beach and asking students to socially distance and wear masks. But, there are too many students putting masks on and then removing them as soon as our staff and/or campus safety leave. Those students are basically playing games that we don’t have time or interest in playing. I have asked Campus Safety and our staff to take the name of any student who is in a large group partying without a mask and/or not social distancing. We may also resort to taking pictures, if we need to do so. I am putting this in bold so that no one can claim they were not warned. We can't endlessly ask students to course correct.
We will be disbanding groups on Beaver Beach out onto the East Quad lawn which allows for more space for physical distancing. Beaver Beach is where most of our problems are arising. Our Student Development team is going to work with students to find more appropriate places and ways to socialize together. The goal is to give people a way to gather in groups but with the groups spread out more.
At the same time, I have also heard from some students and parents who would like for us to ban any social gathering with alcohol and/or travel off campus. We are working to create an environment where students safely socialize - which is important for maintaining as normal a campus experience as possible while also controlling COVID on campus. We are trying to walk a very fine line. It is the right line to walk and it is still an open question if we can make it work. Being able to socialize is part of the Denison experience.
We are not allowing any indoor parties. Crowded indoor spaces present the biggest risk to our campus. We are allowing students to congregate outside with alcohol. We are asking students to be in groups of no more than 10 and to practice physical distancing and/or mask wearing. We are allowing multiple groups of 10 in the same outdoor locations with space between them. I realize some students and parents disagree with this approach, but it is the approach we are taking.
A place where we could use help from students: we need to expand social activities that fit within the COVID guidelines. This is an area where we could use student energy and ideas. If students have ideas for fun ways to socialize, please contact Dana Pursley in CLIC. We are making funds available to support student generated ideas. We are ready to provide financial and other forms of support. We have a team working to expand this work over the next few days.
As for off-campus travel, we have also asked students to limit travel off campus during the first two weeks. Some students do need to travel off campus - to go to a pharmacy or to buy food - and we want students to be able to take care of their essential needs. Eating in restaurants or going to bars is not in that category.
We have not banned students from leaving campus. When we are comfortable, we will relax this policy but in a limited way. Ohio continues to have high COVID rates. We worry about students leaving campus, getting infected and then returning to campus unaware that they are infected. Please remember that we do have faculty, staff, and students on campus who are at higher risk. We owe it to ourselves and to other members of our campus community to minimize risk.
Our biggest concern about off campus travel is crowded indoor spaces. Under no circumstances are students allowed to travel off campus to bars or other college campuses and then return to our campus. If you want to be in bars or visit other campuses, you need to switch to remote learning from home. These behaviors present more risk to the campus community than we are willing to allow. We may start monitoring late night entrances to campus.
I realize we are asking our students to follow a set of restrictions that we would never put in place during normal times. But this is not a normal time, and we don’t have room or time to mostly get it right. These first few weeks are especially important. We are seeing example after example of universities who have opened only to have an outbreak and are now moving to remote learning for all students. Students who question this might want to look at this article.
I want to end on a positive note. As I walked around campus yesterday afternoon, I was struck by the positive tone across campus. Most students are working exceptionally hard to find ways to have a great year within the community guidelines. Thank you for the work you are doing. Our goal for this week is to do more to support you, and to work diligently to identify students who are pushing the boundaries and remove them from campus.
In terms of COVID on campus, we will update our COVID dashboard tomorrow. You will find it on My.Denison.edu by clicking on the “COVID-19 Dashboard” button. As of today, we have fewer than five confirmed cases on campus. There are currently 12 students in quarantine on campus (those who have been identified as having been in close contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19). We also have 11 community members in designated housing on campus or staying home and not coming to campus as they await direction about reported symptoms or testing results. As a reminder, we have multiple residence hall spaces on campus dedicated to isolation and quarantine and ample space remains for this purpose.