Party Foul: Furman's Counterproductive COVID-19 Policies
On August 31, Furman University was featured in the NPR article, “Preventing College Parties? Shame and Blame Don’t Work, But Beer Pong Outside Might.” The article, written by Elise Nadworny, focuses on COVID-19 prevention on college campuses and features input from educational professionals nation-wide, including Furman’s own Vice President for student life, Connie Carson. Nadworny highlights the struggles many universities are facing in keeping partying and coronavirus cases under control. In particular, she focuses on how administrators are punishing rule-breakers and finding alternative ways for students to do the inevitable, socialize.
I find Furman’s feature in this article ironic. While I believe Connie Carson’s ideas concerning organized outdoor movies and dance parties may be of interest to some students, many would argue that such measures are hardly a substitute for the typical college experience. Nadworny suggests that college administrators are finding and implementing realistic ways in which they can allow college students to socialize safely, but is it realistic to assume college students want to sit in hula hoops and watch Jumanji on a Friday night? It seems like Furman administrators are not providing alternative outlets for interaction, but rather offering inadequate “mixers” to check a box. So long as they claim to have offered opportunities for interaction, they can blame us when we seek more desirable options elsewhere.
As David Paltiel, a professor of public health policy at Yale said, “If you have to turn a blind eye to a game of beer pong that is happening on the quad or driveway, that’s well worth it. What you’re trying to prevent is the super spreader event where 150 unmasked kids get way too close to each other in the basement of some frat house with no windows open.” Despite being featured in the same article, Furman administrators seem to disagree and are punishing students who are only attempting to maintain some semblance of traditional college life.
On the first day of classes, my friends and I, all of whom are 21+, wanted to celebrate the beginning of our senior year while being as safe as possible. Typically, we would choose to celebrate big–going to a bar or hosting an apartment party–but this year was different. We felt that the best and safest way to celebrate in a global pandemic was to hang out and drink outside, socially distanced, with masks. After about 35 minutes, Furman Police got an anonymous tip about the gathering, came to the scene, and shut it down. While they were gracious and helped us to better understand the rules, considering we were all of age to drink, I left the situation feeling unsettled. I thought, if we aren’t allowed to be outside to drink and socialize, people will ultimately resort to hiding from authority.
The following weekend, after being shut down on FDOC, what Paltiel argued that administrators are “trying to prevent” actually happened—parties at Kappa Alpha’s off-campus fraternity house caused the first COVID-19 outbreak at Furman. Although I believe it is human nature for college aged students to intermingle and consequently spread the virus, I sincerely think that if the rules about drinking outside in North Village or in G-Field were different, it would have significantly decreased the magnitude of this outbreak. Students would not have to resort to off-campus frat houses if there was a place to congregate on campus relatively safely.
Following this incident, many students faced punishments and quarantines. Additionally, many attendees did not get their first “warning” as the Paladin Promise ensured they would, and instead immediately received severe punishments. I understand that the situation was unprecedented and needed to be handled promptly, however, the response was reflective of Furman’s flawed and overly-strict approach to student life on campus.
As public health experts have noted, a harsher approach does not mean behavior will improve. Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease physician and public health expert, mentioned, “We know that shaming and blaming people for public health interventions doesn’t work…you never want to do something that will drive behavior underground and make it more risky.” That’s exactly what happened at Furman—when socially distanced outside events were shut down, people resorted to the frat basements.
My friends and I continue to follow the rules and socially distance to the best of our ability, but I believe if Furman does not create spaces in which students can safely spend time with each other, students will continue to resort to more risky alternatives behind closed doors. This will only lead to more outbreaks.
This year is unprecedented and hard for everyone. Obeying the new “Paladin Promise” has severely limited college life and telling students to sit in socially distanced hula hoops and watch movies is not going to fix that.
Instead of blindly expecting college students to only hang out with their roommates, Furman needs to be realistic and proactive. Provide us a list of things we can do rather than a novel length list of things we cannot do.
I challenge the Furman Administration to take another look at the rules in place for student life on campus this fall, and I hope that in re-evaluating they can come up with new ways to help students safely socialize and not make students feel as though they need to hide.