The Perks and Flaws of IC’s Covid Violation Reporting System
For colleges that have had to be remote in the fall, this semester is a test of observation, analysis and execution. While there were plenty of examples and practices to learn from, there is still a lot that goes into keeping the students, faculty and community safe. This involves safety protocols, restrictions to classes, accommodating remote students and more.
For students, this is the first time they have been in the social situations and pressures of college for months. The standards of college experience—parties, bars, shows, hookups, dating, meeting in groups on-campus—have all been either altered or done away with for the time being. Many are anxious to restore their college lives, while others are nervous about the potential for the virus to easily spread if students break protocol.
Ithaca College, after deciding weeks before fall move-in to go remote, had months to prepare for its pandemic reopening for the spring semester. The halls and doors are adorned with colorful circles telling you where you can walk, stand, sit and eat. Classes are masked up and distanced, if not still online. Testing is no longer done by swabs, but instead twice a week by saliva samples. Visitation between student housing is heavily restricted.
Needless to say, it is a very different world from what it was when students left for spring break in March 2020.
While these policies exist in most aspects of the school to keep students safe, their enforcement is another question.
“They’ll go into common spaces to eat, and then they’ll just leave their masks off when they’re done eating to chat, or shove extra chairs around tables and stuff,” says Ithaca College music student Miranda Lape of some other students she’s observed.
She says that because of this relaxed enforcement of protocol in certain locations, she has been going to rehearsals, but otherwise practices in her apartment due to worries about practice room policies not being followed. She says, for example, that students often do not allow the time required for airing out the room, and that she has witnessed students using rooms that they did not reserve in advance.
“You know, everyone is working around the system,” she says.
Lape is on the Music Dean’s Student Council. She says that while in a meeting, Ithaca College President Shirley Collado encouraged her and her classmates to use the community reporting form provided by IC to call attention to events that raise health and safety concerns.
“So then on Facebook, when people express that concern over people not following regulations, I communicated what she told the student council in our meeting, and then a bunch of students said they had done that and it wasn’t anonymous,” she explains.
One student, Elyse Ryden, says that an administrator told her in September that those reported will be notified of the one who submitted the form, and another student, Elliott Weil, told her that he could confirm that this was the case.
The form does not require the name of those filling it out, but according to the school, while students reported anonymously are still reminded of policies that may apply to the situation, the extent to which actions are taken largely depend on whether or not that identifying information is given.
“When an individual submits the form anonymously—we typically would not move forward with conduct charges, except in a situation where there was an imminent threat to health and safety,” said Assistant Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards Katie Newcomb in an email.
Christina Moylan, the Student Affairs and Campus Life Public Health Emergency Preparedness Director at IC, says that in order to move forward into a conduct phase; a follow-up after submitting a form with the reporter is often necessary, as otherwise there would not be sufficient information to take action.
“Without knowing who the people are for us to be able to…reach back out to them and say, ‘Can you help us understand a little bit more about the situation?’, it can make it very challenging for us to actually follow up on whatever the actual complaint is,” Moylan says. “I think the intention of the forum is not to out people who are sharing that information, but that the reality is that there is a point in the contract process… where that information may have to be shared.”
“We can never guarantee that the name of the reporting individual would not be shared, but we will do our best to not share the reporting student’s name when possible,” says Newcomb. Many students have been given consequences so far, she says, which range in severity depending on the risk and type of violation.
At least one student in the same Facebook thread said that the risk of being outed as a reporter made them hesitate to submit the form and potentially cause a confrontation.
If the campus community is left to police itself, anonymity ought to be protected, especially if it prevents safety reports from being made. Whether or not a confrontation is likely, the possibility of being revealed as an accuser may cause issues, especially if the students interact throughout the day in classes, organizations, or through mutual friends.
While the policies of Ithaca College have been working so far, with case levels remaining low weeks after move-in, risks exist that students should not feel hesitant to speak up about if they see fit. Cornell was put into their ‘yellow’ alert level in early February following a party in Collegetown that created a case cluster, and Cortland police had to break up a nearly 100-person off-campus party.
Perhaps the methods to keep the campus safe and accountable have worked so far, and many want to get back to normal as soon as they can. Personal accountability is and will always be the key to managing COVID-19. There is no reason to expect or want the campus to observe students’ every action, but there is not yet a secure, accessible way to keep individuals accountable. Until doing so is risk-free to the ones making reports and students feel comfortable making them, the college limits its community’s ability to keep itself safe.
Jay Bradley is a third-year journalism major who’s the life of the party in the line to get vaccinated. They can be reached at email@example.com.
Art by Art Director Adam Dee.