No parties, no trips: Colleges set COVID-19 rules for fall

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In this photo provided by Jason Koski and Cornell University, Bryan Maley, right, a grad student in the Master of Public Health program, interviews a student on campus about mask-wearing experiences as part of a public health survey, Friday, July 30, 2020, in Ithaca, N.Y. (Jason Koski/Cornell University via AP)

As they struggle to salvage some semblance of a campus experience this fall, U.S. colleges are requiring promises from students to help contain the coronavirus — no keg parties, no long road trips and no outside guests on campus.

No kidding. Administrators warn that failure to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid mass gatherings could bring serious consequences, including getting booted from school.

Critics question whether it's realistic to demand that college students not act like typical college students. But the push illustrates the high stakes for universities planning to welcome at least some students back. Wide-scale COVID-19 testing, quarantines and plexiglass barriers in classrooms won’t work if too many students misbehave.

“I think that the majority of students are going to be really respectful and wear their masks, social distance, keep gatherings small,” said incoming Tulane University senior Sanjali De Silva. “But I fear that there will be a distinct group of students that will decide not to do that. And it’ll be a big bummer.”

Tulane students have already received a stark warning from the school in New Orleans, an early pandemic hot spot. After a summer weekend of large gatherings, Dean of Students Erica Woodley wrote to students, stressing her key point in bold, capital letters.

“DO NOT HOST PARTIES OR GATHERINGS WITH MORE THAN 15 PEOPLE, INCLUDING THE HOST. IF YOU DO, YOU WILL FACE SUSPENSION OR EXPULSION FROM THE UNIVERSITY,” Woodley wrote, signing off with, “Do you really want to be the reason that Tulane and New Orleans have to shut down again?”

The emphasis on student behavior is part of a broader effort to create safe bubbles on campus even if the virus surges elsewhere. The University of Texas at Austin is not allowing parties either on or off campus. In Massachusetts, Amherst College is prohibiting students from traveling off campus except in certain cases, such as medical appointments and family emergencies.

Many universities have spelled out expectations for student behavior in pledges and compacts that cover everything from mask wearing to off-campus travel. The pledges often cover faculty and staff, too.