Stop Campus Partying to Slow the Virus? Colleges Try but Often Fail

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At Cornell, where Mr. Chang studies and works, “behavior compact monitors” are expected to be deployed to spot and address health violations. An online tool to report violations is scheduled to start when classes do on Sept. 2, according to a university spokeswoman. Complaints will be adjudicated by a special compliance team.

But right now, Mr. Chang said, student staff members like him seem to be the ones catching and correcting the pandemic no-nos: “Who else is there?”

As undergraduates have checked into his building, he said, he and other student workers have reminded them of the new rules. The majority comply, he said, but some advisers worry that even gentle reminders might escalate into conflict.

So far there has been little if any pushback to campus coronavirus rules on ideological grounds, but there are qualms from civil libertarians about how policies are being carried out. At Iowa State, Ryan Hurley, president of the College Republicans, said he was dismayed by students partying, but also by the administration’s confusing directives, like a series of emails about swimming pools.

Norman Siegel, a civil liberties lawyer, raised a concern that having invited students back to campus, it was unfair of colleges to punish nonconforming behavior too harshly. The schools have a responsibility to persuade students to put public health above their impulse to have a good time, Mr. Siegel said.

“If they don’t set that up, they can’t transfer the problem to teenagers,” he said.

But can they transfer it to adults? Resident advisers elsewhere on campus are demanding hazard pay, additional protective equipment and shorter hours. Mr. Chang is not part of their action. But like them, he said, he worries.

On Monday night, he said, he helped a student get back to her room, reminding her that she was supposed to be quarantining. But when he saw her wandering twice more in the next hour as he was posting health signage, he just stood and stared, speechless.

“I hated it,” he said, “but after that first time, my thought was, ‘What are you doing? Why are you out?’ And then, ‘Is your mask on? Am I sufficiently distanced?’ The third time? I just rerouted. I told myself it would be better to just post those rules.”

Reporting was contributed by Jesse James Deconto, Timothy Facciola, Danielle Ivory and Allyson Waller.

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