Texas universities blame off-campus parties for rising COVID-19 cases, but few are disciplining students

Students sit outside the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center at the University of Texas at Austin.                    Credit: Allie Goulding for The Texas Tribune
Students sit outside the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Credit: Allie Goulding for The Texas Tribune

As Texas college towns see rising COVID-19 cases with the return of hundreds of thousands of students to campus, a small but increasing number of universities are disciplining students who attend or host house parties or Greek rush events.

“We have already begun formal action with both individuals and organizations,” Kristen Harrell, associate director for student life and student affairs at Texas A&M University, said Friday. “We will continue to take action on reports where we can specifically identify students or organizations.”

Schools, desperate to keep their doors open but worried about health risks to their students, are being put in the uncomfortable position of having to govern young adult behavior that is mostly happening off university property.

Baylor University is taking a comparatively hard line against students who violate the codes — promising fines, suspending Greek houses and a handful of students after parties, and increasing university police patrols in off-campus areas heavily populated by students.

At Texas A&M University, officials are urging members of the community to report student activity off campus that violates local, state and university health protocols such gatherings of more than 10 people and students not wearing masks.

But while reports of those crackdowns are beginning to increase, most Texas universities aren’t penalizing individual students for partying that takes place off-site.

Instead, those schools are relying heavily on cities, property managers, national organizations and the students themselves to combat risky off-campus behavior that threatens to increase community spread of the coronavirus.

The reasons: lack of resources, an emphasis on personal responsibility, or the fear that stiff penalties for noncompliance will backfire.