Students are concerned over the enforcement of Penn’s Campus Compact as the fall semester draws closer, calling for the University to prioritize safe socialization and provide answers about Compact violations.
The University announced on June 25 that students may return to campus for the fall semester under a hybrid instruction model, with the expectation that each student abides by the social distancing and safety protocols outlined in the Student Campus Compact to mitigate the spread of coronavirus on campus. Students are expected to wear facial coverings in public spaces and participate in digital symptom monitoring and contact tracing.
Penn's ability to monitor compliance with the Compact will generally be on the honor system, Penn's Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé told the DP last month.
A Compact Review Panel, composed of staff and faculty members with "expertise in public health and student life," will review violations of the Compact with the potential for disciplinary action, prompting student concern over the consequences if the Compact is violated.
Without strict oversight, students worry a surge in cases could occur, yet students fear strict oversight and individual reporting could create a divisive campus culture.
Since members of the community can report an alleged violation of the Compact, according to the Student Campus Compact webpage, some believe that the system for reporting violations will promote a culture in which students turn each other in.
Some students said they personally would never report guideline violations to the Compact Review Panel, while others said they would only report egregious violations, such as if students attend large parties.
Rising College sophomore Sophia Bagg said she thought the reporting process could divide the student body and create a harmful campus culture.
“I feel like it's a slippery slope to a sort of witch-hunt mentality, which is dangerous because that power given to students can snowball really quickly,” Bagg said.
If a virus outbreak occurs on Penn's campus, Rising College sophomore Keaton Mackey said the threat of a punishment may discourage students from communicating their daily activities and locations to contact tracers.
“[Punishment] is just going to make everyone hide what they're doing. And then if there is an outbreak, people aren't going to come forward about being in close contact with others,” Mackey said.
Under the Compact, students may not gather in groups of more than 25 people, including parties on- or off-campus, according to the June 25 announcement.
Rising College sophomore Adam Goudjil believes the honor system nature of the Compact may not do enough to mandate safe behavior.
“These are now civic responsibilities. It's not like you're snitching if you report because this is someone spreading a pandemic,” he said.
Students said the University needs to be more transparent about the consequences for violating the Compact. The Compact lists potential consequences for violators, including being directed to “refrain from participating in any on-campus activities,” having restricted access to campus buildings, and having their PennCard deactivated. The Compact does not, however, explain the consequences for different infractions.
Rising College sophomore Rebecca Hennessy said Penn should disclose the specific consequences for violations.
“It's inevitable that people are going to break the Compact, and there needs to be some sort of guideline in place for what's going to happen, not only to discourage people from breaking the Compact but to give parents and faculty some peace of mind,” Hennessy said.
Giving specific consequences ahead of time would create objectivity in the discipline process, Mackey said. She believes that deciding punishments on a case-by-case basis could result in bias in the review process.
“If a fraternity threw a party and some of the fraternity’s previous members now sit on the board, will the Compact Review Panel not suspend all the kids, because that’s going to upset the board?” Mackey said.
Rising College sophomore Julia Lottman said she was concerned the consequences of violating the Compact may ultimately be harsher than the University is currently communicating.
The Panel can refer cases to the Office of Student Conduct, which may result in suspension or expulsion.
“If they're literally talking about suspending people, I think that that changes things. Being in the mindset of, 'a violation could jeopardize our academic careers,' students would probably be more careful about all of the precautions,” Lottman said.
Some students wished that the Compact would mandate a quarantine period for students who arrive to campus from areas with surging COVID-19 cases.
“You may be required to quarantine depending on where you traveled. Quarantine requirements are imposed by the city and state regulations, not just Penn,” according to the Campus Compact FAQs. Currently, there is no law in Pennsylvania mandating a quarantine for domestic travelers, though the state does recommend that people do so for 14 days.
Hennessy said she wishes Penn would require all students arriving from surging states to quarantine for 14 days after move-in. Cornell University will require students arriving from 34 states with rising cases to quarantine for 14 days upon entering New York state.
Students are also concerned that the Compact prioritizes physical health at the expense of mental health.
Rising College sophomore Caylen David said that he would feel uncomfortable reporting a violation of the Compact to the review panel because students may be tempted to interact with others for their mental health.
Mackey said Penn needs to provide students with opportunities to socially interact in a safe way to ensure that students are not tempted to break the Compact.
“So, for example, being like, how about a picnic on College Green? I think it's going to result in a lot more compliance if they did that,” Mackey said.
David also called upon Penn to invest in students' mental health by offering safe opportunities to socialize with others.
“Rather than looking to punishments, the University needs to help the students [that break the Compact] and see what they need to thrive under this model,” David said.