Imagine you’ve just moved out of your parents’ house and into the dorms, but you’re only allowed to invite people in your dorm to hangout in your room — with masks on and the door open. The Resident Assistant checks all of your friends’ student IDs and makes sure everyone lives in the building.
Students living in residence halls are expected to follow a multitude of new policies this year to stay safe during the pandemic, but some are having trouble making new friends while staying within the rules.
“Anecdotally, I can say that because there are more rules, there's more breaking rules,” Residential Programs and Services executive director Lukas Leftwich said.
Leftwich said students must follow the COVID-19 rules to limit possible transmission of the virus, even if the new infractions don’t seem as severe as drinking or being loud. The new residence hall policies include no outside guests, a limit of four people in a room and a mask requirement.
Experts from IU have said these policies are not perfect, but they’re still the best way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the residence halls, Leftwich said.
But some freshmen said the rules are confusing, and they were trying to follow them but were still written up.
Freshman and Spruce Hall resident Sarah Bagshaw was written up on her second night in the dorms after she and seven other people were sitting in an open area. Bagshaw said everyone was socially distanced and wearing masks most of the time, but they did pull down the masks occasionally to hear each other better.
Bagshaw said the group made a point to go to an open area to talk because of the policies to not socialize in their rooms. She said they made an effort to follow the rules and socialize safely.
Earlier in the night, an RA told them they were fine together as they were as long as they weren't in a dorm room. She said two RAs later came up to them when some of the students weren’t wearing masks and said “You know the drill” before taking their student IDs and writing them up.
“It obviously was a way bigger deal than I expected,” Bagshaw said. “I just kind of feel like that's a little extreme.”
At this point, Bagshaw and her floor had not yet had their meeting over the specifics of COVID-19 rules with their RA. She said they finally had a meeting almost a week and half later.
The first infraction will usually result in a conference with a student conduct representative, IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said. The conversation will focus on policies, the student agreement form and what happens if a student continues certain behaviors.
Carney said the meeting makes sure they understand the rules and responsibilities to be on campus this year. The first write-up is not on a student’s conduct record. Carney said if a student continues to break the rules they will face more disciplinary action such as removal from the residence halls or expulsion.
“It is not our intention to try to get people in trouble,” Carney said. “The main thing is to get people to follow what we need to do in this unique year to get through it healthy.”
IU freshman and Willkie Quad South resident Oliva Cozzi said she thinks RAs should be more lenient before issuing write-ups since many residents are still confused about different rules and that they are still trying to find ways to be social and make friends safely.
Cozzi was written up after she and three other friends were in a single dorm at Read Quad she did not live in. Everyone inside the room had masks. She said the RAs knocked on their door because they thought they heard a man’s voice inside the room.
She said the RAs accused them of multiple other violations, including thinking an Arnold Palmer was alcohol, saying the group took too long to answer the door and that some of the women were difficult during questioning.
Cozzi and her friends all had to attend a student conduct session going over COVID-19 guidelines and the RAs' statement.
Some students, including Cozzi, are upset that they’re being reprimanded for breaking dorm rules while some of their peers are partying off campus. She said it is unfair because if she gets written up again she’ll have to attend a disciplinary hearing.
Carney said students may feel like they are hearing from their RA more than in previous years due to the number of new COVID-19 rules. IU declined to release an official number of how many students have been written up so far this semester.
Some RAs have fewer residents than traditional years, Leftwich said. Though RPS has space for up to 12,000 students, only about 8,000 are living in residence halls this semester.
The policies are ever changing as RPS staff are notified of city and county recommendations, Leftwich said. He said administrators are refocusing rules based on student behavior patterns they noticed in the first few weeks of the semester.
“It's a constant evolution in terms of trying to continue to keep people safe,” Leftwich said.
Leftwich said an area of focus RPS is looking into is how students can eat safely. Medical experts have noticed eating a meal can be a more dangerous point of transmission, and city and county officials are looking into how densely packed an eating area should be, Leftwich said.
Students with any questions regarding COVID-19 rules should refer back to the Office of Student Conduct and the Student Commitment Form. Any updates to rules will be communicated to residents directly.
Opening the residence halls also comes with a set of responsibilities for administrators, Leftwich said. He said RPS is thrilled at how students have acclimated so far.
“It's incumbent upon us to do everything in our power to be as as responsible as we can, and making sure that we don't create the opportunity for our community to transmit this disease,” Leftwich said.