There are 53 COVID-19 cases on IUP’s campus as of Sept. 10, with a jump of 64 new cases in the past week. In order to prevent more cases, face-coverings and social distancing are required.
IUP’s “returning to campus” plan states that in order to reduce the spread of the virus, “masks or other face coverings are required to be worn by all employees, students and visitors when in buildings and vehicles owned or leased by IUP. When outside, face coverings are required when social distancing (maintaining a minimum distance of six feet between you and others) is not possible.”
An online community standard reporting form was released Aug. 4, allowing students to report others for exhibiting behavior that goes against safety policies.
However, no information has yet been given as to what the punishment would be despite IUP’s plan stating, “details on how these guidelines will be enforced will be shared before the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester.”
Students and staff are confused as to how IUP is enforcing these rules and penalizing the students who break them since the plan also mentions that campus police are not to be called to enforce violations.
Upon surveying a random selection of 45 students across campus on the enforcement of mask and social distancing policies, 42 percent expressed total confusion, 26 percent said there is not any discipline, and masks are only “highly suggested” on a moral standard, 16 percent assumed campus staff would offer verbal warning or a reminder to social distance and wear a mask.
“I believe they are not giving any punishment,” Charish Page (senior, kinesiology health and sport science) said.
If students are not aware of the consequences for not wearing a mask, there is only a moral incentive to wear one. Although, not all students share that incentive. Even those who believe that IUP will punish those who violate the rules may still find ways around them.
Some students complained that masks are uncomfortable and believe the outdoors are safe. IUP requires masks to be worn outdoors “only if social distancing is not possible.” There hasn’t been further elaboration under what circumstances that applies to.
Staff members are also struggling with what to do when they witness someone violating safety rules.
“If a student comes in without a mask, I give them one,” Louise, a staff member that supervises the entrance of North Dining Hall, said.
While entering buildings without a mask breaks campus policy, Louise does not report the student. At least, she was not instructed to do so.
A similar lack of communication and confusion exists in the Co-Op store.
Cindy Bentley of customer service said if a student came into the building without a mask, she would try to find her manager and it “wouldn’t be her place” to say anything.
“Nobody has told [the staff] yet of how to deal with a situation besides maybe a verbal warning,” she said.
The university provides staff and professors the rules, but how they are enforcing it is based upon the professor’s discretion such as being kicked out of class, a report to campus police or a warning/verbal lecture.
“I’ll tell a student that they are required to wear a mask and offer them one of the university’s provided disposable masks in the classroom,” Assistant Professor of the Biology department, Dr. Sarah Emel said. “If they refuse to wear it, I would ask them to leave and join the class remotely instead.”
Giving someone a mask is no guarantee they would wear it. Without communication between staff, there is no way to know if it’s a one-time incident or consistent pattern of defiance. In the latter of these cases, the only way to enforce the rule is to issue punishment and make it clear that there are consequences.
Without clear and consistent protocol across campus on how staff must handle these situations and report students, any punishment cannot be fairly enforced.
The University of Pittsburgh, for example, has made it clear that any student who attends or hosts a party without masks and social distancing can be kicked out of university housing or be suspended.
IUP has not yet clarified their plan with social distancing and mask violations. As of right now, university says it is holding students accountable through the Office of Community Standards and Student Support and action is taken in proportion to the situation.