By Mary Kate McGrath - December 28, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic upended life on campus this fall, requiring colleges and universities to limit the number of students returning to dormitories, requiring community members to adhere to social distancing and mask-wearing measures, and transitioning to remote or a hybrid model of learning. Unfortunately, not all students complied with COVID-19 protocols this year. Many colleges and universities are now using student juries for COVID rule breakers, allowing each case to be treated more equitably.
When colleges and universities made the decision to bring students back in the Fall, many implemented COVID-19 conduct codes and pledges to ensure students refrained from large gatherings, practice social distancing, and wore masks, according to Inside HigherEd. Administrators took their responsibility to communicate public health information seriously, setting clear guidelines for student behavior on campus. Additionally, many colleges or universities leveraged public health campaigns, such as routine messaging or online training modules, to emphasize behavioral expectations.
Many colleges and universities required students to sign COVID-19 agreements upon arrival on campus. These proposals asked students to adhere to strict guidelines for living on campus, monitoring their own health or wellness, taking personal prevention or self-care steps, and refraining from social gatherings or in-person student activities. Key tenants of a COVID-19 prevention plan included routine testing, mask-wearing in public, social-distancing compliant campus spaces, and mandatory quarantine period for any student who contracts the virus or comes into contact with an infected person.
Early on, administrators began to leverage students for coronavirus related roles on campus, hiring community members to act as “public health ambassadors or on student juries.” For example, New York University hired 300 students to walk around campus and encourage peers to wear a mask and keep a distance. While student ambassadors promote proper public health protocol on campus, they don’t enforce the rules or instigate disciplinary action. Instead the role encourages dialogue between peers and allows students to model healthy behavior.
The management of COVID-19 violations is a complex, and unprecedented, challenge for college administrators. Some colleges are using student groups to manage coronavirus misbehavior reports on campus, allowing these juries to review the public health violation and decide on the penalties for those who don’t comply, according to Inside Higher Ed.
The student-led committees look into reports of students who refused to wear masks, violated social-distancing protocol, or hosted guests in their dormitory. Many low-level violations, such as being without a mask, will be given educational punishments such as writing an apology letter or creating a poster promoting public health protocol.
Thus far, these student juries have become considered part of a successful COVID-19 response strategy for some campuses. The COVID-19 Community Court at Rice University is a student-run organization that oversees social-distancing and mask-wearing violations, helping to enforce the public health policies in place at the school, according to Texas Monthly. The CCC encourages students to submit instances of COVID-19 misbehavior that made them feel unsafe on campus. The tips are submitted anonymously online, often with photos or posts on social media. Many rule-breaking cases are accidental, and students are overwhelmingly apologetic and cooperative, according to officials.
Other institutions have also found student juries valuable. The student review board at Kansas University devised a “three-tier” system for disciplining students who do not follow the university’s health guidelines, as per Inside Higher Ed . The board, which already existed to process alcohol violations, doesn’t hear a case until a student has received three-warning and been written up to the dean.
“The students take pride in the work that they do in the process to make students feel comfortable but still learn from it,” the dean of students said. “We don’t want meeting with the student review board to be looked at as some terrible thing. We want it to be seen as the process to help students onto graduation.”
Technology can play a role in further boosting student engagement with COVID-19 protocol. For example, a campus safety app can play a number of roles in student-led coronavirus response. The anonymous two-way tip texting functionality can help students report violations on campus - the app also allows for students to submit photos or to engage in two-way conversations with campus authorities. The ability to report situations anonymously allows students to report misbehavior without fear of retaliation. A campus safety app can play a critical role in instigating the student-led jury process, allowing officials to quickly address violations
The app can also be used to spread community awareness by centralizing public health information. The call directory, which includes numbers for the campus health center or the dean’s office, can connect students with any resources. Students can also use the app to access the student handbook, including COVID-19 updates or agreements, as well as any updates regarding class schedules, travel restrictions, or location-based responses.
Administrators can send targeted alerts with customizable content, keeping students updated of any changes to COVID-19 policy or protocol.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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