Classes haven’t even started yet but concerns over reopening Hobart and William Smith Colleges for this upcoming academic school year are spurring-up as current students are returning back to campus.
On Saturday, a pair of professors aired their grievances online by sending a campus wide email to students, faculty, and staff titled “A Plea to the HWS Community for Reopening.”
In that email, Associate Professor of Anthropology Jason Rodriguez and Associate Professor of Sociology Kendra Freeman addressed the Colleges’ new addendum ahead of next week’s official start to the new school year on Monday, August 24th.
“A residential liberal arts education centers on the experiences we have together – the learning and living we can do when we share space. But, the stakes here are high this semester. There are grave potential consequences that hinge upon how we behave in the coming weeks, for members of the HWS community and residents of the broader Finger Lakes area. Our health is on the line, jobs are on the line, and perhaps even the long-term viability of the colleges is on the line,” the duo wrote in an email.
Professors Rodriguez and Freeman alleged students have already been violating the new addendum, claiming that members of their campus community are not wearing masks or facial coverings while out in public and participating in social gatherings, which have been banned.
“However, over the past week there have already been numerous, publicly visible violations of the policies outlined in the Community Standards Addendum – members of the community in buildings without face coverings, members of the community engaging in social gatherings without social distancing or face coverings, and so forth. Students have already been formally reprimanded and also suspended,” they later continued.
The Campus Opening Community Standards Addendum had been crafted and distributed among students on July 28th.
But even before students arrived, they had already agreed to the terms of the addendum.
“By electronically signing this document or by matriculating at the Colleges this fall, you acknowledge that you have read this document and the materials referenced herein, that you understand the risks posed by COVID-19, and that you agree to comply with our Community Standards, of which this addendum is a part,” the addendum stipulates.
Current students started moving-in on August 8th and with more than 700 students already on-campus, some whom already settled in and have been seen sunbathing by the Bozzuto Boathouse and even partying along the theme houses and fraternities on South Main Street, as captured on social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.
But some even witnessed these acts unfold in real-time and in-person, according to eyewitnesses in the area.
Some Ward 1 residents have even noticed students already partying around South Main Street and along the route to Seneca Lake and reported those assertions to FingerLakes1.com.
However, all social gatherings are supposed to be cancelled, according to the Colleges’ COVID-19 reopening plans for this fall semester.
Under the “Egregious Violations” section of the addendum, egregious or intentional violations of COVID-19 related policies include “hosting a gathering or party in a residence or in the area” and “not following directives regarding quarantining or isolating when required to do so.”
In response to violating any of these rules, the Colleges intend to enforce disciplinary actions that may range from issuing a written warning to placing a student on social probation, separating a student from the residential community or even requiring a student’s forced withdrawal from the campus in the form of a suspension.
Rodriguez and Freeman even mentioned in their email that some students were already suspended before the start of the new school year.
But even a Geneva City Councilor recently learned a valuable lesson from one of his own children who’s currently in college as well.
“You can’t tell a college student what to do,” Ward 1 City Councilor Tom Burrall exclusively told FingerLakes1.com.
Burrall recalled a previous conversation about the challenges behind accepting realistic expectations for how students will act when certain behavior is restricted – and in this case, partying.
Regardless of whether social gatherings are occurring on-campus or downtown at the local bars, students are “just going to find another way to socialize,” according to Burrall.
“This is the dice that you roll when you have your students come back,” he added.
Recognizing that the Colleges are posed to reopen in a safe manner, Burrall remains excited that students are in-fact returning who “bring back a level of vibrancy to our community” while becoming residents once again when arriving back to Geneva.
Last Friday, Burrall even recalled walking along South Main Street where he crossed paths with eight to ten students from the Colleges, all of whom were wearing masks.
In that passing moment, he considered his brief encounter as pleasant and not concerning to him, suggesting that his residents in Ward 1 should all encourage a “healthy dose of respect” when it comes to wearing face coverings “because this is what we’re supposed to be doing,” in Burrall’s own words.
But even in the event when some college students may walk along South Main’s sidewalk without masks, Burrall insists for the public to not hesitate friendly nudging them in the right direction for those who aren’t following the state’s mask mandates that are set forth by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“This is just part of public safety. You’re not being a bad person by making a comment. You’re just concerned,” he claimed.
As a 35-year resident of Ward 1, he still hasn’t seen or heard any changes that were purported in his own neck of the neighborhood which surrounds the campus grounds.
At the same time, Burrall suggests that these accusations about city’s neighbors in the Colleges are not in good faith.
“I think there may be a heightened awareness and prejudice among locals and college students. I’m not sure what the validity of these claims are or prejudice toward the college students,” he considered.
This year’s return to schooling poses many disruptions in the routine procedures at the Colleges, and Burrall has comfortably admitted that.
“It’s going to be quite a challenge regarding the pandemic,” he added.
One of those challenges that Burrall acknowledged lies in the Colleges not running their downtown shuttle service this year.
Without the shuttle service in operation due to limited spacing on the vehicles to spread passengers out by keeping them six-feet apart, foot traffic may increase along South Main when students eventually start flocking down to the local bars – even while not at full-capacity.
“There may be more sidewalk traffic at 1 a.m. because there’s not shuttle service,” Burrall suggested.
But in the end, Rodriguez and Freeman are still calling for action from the entire student body from now ahead of next Monday, asking them to follow the set rules in an earnest plea for respect and sake of all who live, work, play, and learn while on-campus.
“Please receive this letter as a plea and call to action for all of us who want to remain at HWS for the coming months and to see our institution thrive. We hope this finds all of you remaining in good health and we look forward to working together to make this semester not just workable, but one of community building and thriving,” they concluded.
Editor’s Note: Read the full-letter below.
A Plea to the HWS Community for Reopening
As we all know, members of the HWS community have been working tirelessly since spring break, and throughout the summer, to make it possible for us to have in-person instruction and residential life this fall. A residential liberal arts education centers on the experiences we have together – the learning and living we can do when we share space. But, the stakes here are high this semester. There are grave potential consequences that hinge upon how we behave in the coming weeks, for members of the HWS community and residents of the broader Finger Lakes area. Our health is on the line, jobs are on the line, and perhaps even the long-term viability of the colleges is on the line.
In the interest of making in-person instruction possible, HWS leadership put together a Community Standards Addendum, available here: https://www.hws.edu/studentlife/pdf/community_standards_addendum.pdf. However, over the past week there have already been numerous, publicly visible violations of the policies outlined in the Community Standards Addendum – members of the community in buildings without face coverings, members of the community engaging in social gatherings without social distancing or face coverings, and so forth. Students have already been formally reprimanded and also suspended.
These events suggest that new policies alone are not sufficient to sustain the opening. Each of us must be willing to hold each other accountable to following the policies, to talk to one other about these expectations, to speak up when we see HWS community members acting in ways that facilitate the spread of the virus, and to notify campus authorities and utilize the new COVID-19 feedback form when circumstances require it (https://cm.maxient.com/reportingform.php?HWSColleges&layout_id=13). We must, in other words, be willing to keep each other safe and to commit to this new reality together, in order to keep alive the possibility of an open campus.
Please receive this letter as a plea and call to action for all of us who want to remain at HWS for the coming months and to see our institution thrive.
We hope this finds all of you remaining in good health and we look forward to working together to make this semester not just workable, but one of community building and thriving.
Jason Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Kendra Freeman, Associate Professor of Sociology