What do we owe each other? This question has taken on a new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic. To protect and ensure the safety of our shared community, the college has adopted a strict social contract known as the Garnet Pledge that shapes the Guide to Residential Living (the practical applications of the Pledge and the college COVID policies).
For college administration, these documents are an outline of collective security to be upheld. For Public Safety, these documents are an additional set of safety measures to be enforced. For students, these documents are a new reality to be lived.
Since the outset of the Fall 2020 semester, there have been two notable, larger-scale incidents of Garnet Pledge infractions that have resulted in revoked housing privileges for multiple students and a few other incidents of similar nature that are not public knowledge. These incidents are examples of student actions that violate the Garnet Pledge and have directly led to the rescission of their housing privileges.
A gathering held on September 18 in an NPPR suite lounge resulted in eight students being sent home. In this gathering, six suitemates and two residential guests were watching a basketball game in the presence of alcohol when a Public Safety officer entered their room. According to one of the residential guests, “Sarah,” ’23, the officer was responding to complaints of loud noise. Sarah recounted that evening in a conversation with The Phoenix.
“I wasn’t socially distanced and that was when the [Public Safety] officer walked in … I feel weird saying this, but he didn’t knock. He opened the door, walked in, and was like, ‘What’s going on, what the fuck is this, get this shit off the table,’ because there were beer cans,” said Sarah. “It was a very weird situation because from the beginning, it was very criminalized, even though everyone was sitting on the couch, watching a basketball game.”
The officer instructed them to put their alcoholic beverages on the table and called backup. Sarah and her friends did not receive contact from the college until two days later. On the afternoon of September 20, a Sunday, Sarah received an email from the college informing her that she had until 6:00 p.m. to pack up her things and move into The Inn at Swarthmore.
“We hadn’t even gotten our verdict back yet from our meeting [with the deans], but they were [already] moving us into the inn to quarantine us … And then, it just immediately felt like the verdict was fixed. It felt like we were being immediately isolated from campus … It felt very criminal,” Sarah recounted.
During her Zoom meeting with the Dean of Students, Tomoko Sakomura, and the Senior Associate Dean of Student Life, Nathan Miller, on Monday, September 21, Sarah explained and provided proof that she was not drinking due to medical reasons. According to Sarah, Sakomura and Miller emphasized that what mattered to their final decision to revoke her housing privileges was not the presence of alcohol, but the fact that she was not socially distancing or wearing a mask. A few days afterwards, her parents received communication as to why Sarah was returning home. Although Sarah understands that herself and her friends were not adhering to social distancing rules, she shared her confusion with regards to general residential policy in the NPPR apartments.
“I had gotten the impression that you can only have one to two guests in each apartment [suite], but apparently that’s not the case at all. You can’t have any guests in the apartment at all,” Sarah said.
In reality, the Guide to Residential Living states that each student can have one guest in their individual dorm room, and that Residential Hall lounges may remain open for up to ten residents. It is currently not specified in the documents whether or not an NPPR apartment suite common room is classified as a dorm room or a residential lounge.
Many other students expressed confusion about the number of guests, if any, were allowed in a student’s dorm room. In an email to The Phoenix, Rachel Head, associate dean and director of student engagement, clarified that the Guide to Residential Living now explicitly states the limit for individual bedrooms is the resident plus one other residential student.
The guide references the expectations of the Garnet Pledge and the Student Handbook, including important practical and logistical information about life in Swarthmore’s residential communities this Fall.
“The Guide shared that students may host another student in their individual bedroom if they are able to maintain appropriate distancing and follow College health and safety expectations,” Head wrote. “There are few, if any, bedrooms in our housing stock that would support more than 1 additional person in a bedroom (two total) and still meet those requirements.”
When the Guide to Residential Living was first emailed to students returning to campus on August 28, the rules regarding residential guests in dorm rooms were unclear.
“A residential student may host another residential student from their building in their individual room, so long as both parties maintain an appropriate physical distance of six feet apart and are mindful about health and safety mitigation efforts,” the document stated as of August 2020.
Since then, the wording of this rule has changed to clarify that there can only be one guest.
“Even though we have already used the term ‘another student’, we got some feedback that it would be helpful to be more explicit about the +1 expectation. We added in the statement about ‘no more than 1’ to be explicit and avoid confusion. The limit for individual bedrooms is the resident plus one other residential student,” wrote Head.
Head added that if there are any substantive or significant changes to the Guide, the college would provide an update to the community.
“We don’t feel that we’ve made substantive edits at this point; rather, there are several topics to which we’ve added additional information,” Head said.
In addition to Sarah, another anonymous student, “Pierre” ’22, shared his confusion over the guest policies both before and after their meetings with the deans. Pierre believes that the deans were not clear on how exactly he violated the Garnet Pledge and what the rules are on room visitations.
“There has been some vagueness about how many people you can have in your room. It used to be unspecified,” Pierre said.
On Sept 26, Pierre and two friends were meeting in a Mertz dorm room with alcohol present when a Public Safety officer entered their room. Two of them were wearing masks while the other was not, and they were all social distancing and of-age.
“So the [officer told us] the reason she entered was that she saw the [homophobic slur] written on the door, which obviously has been reclaimed in recent times by the gay and queer communities. This person whose room it was is a gay man, so it was like a reclamation to have it on his door. The officer claimed that she wanted to make sure that no one was being targeted or attacked,” said Pierre.
Upon entering, the officer saw alcohol in the room and asked everyone for their IDs. By the next day, all three of them were told to move to quarantine housing by 9 p.m. That same day, Pierre received an email from Miller to schedule a Zoom meeting for the evening. In his meeting, Pierre recounted his story to Sakomura and Miller and shared his personal struggles with substance abuse.
“I mentioned that I reached out to [Josh Ellow, alcohol and other-drug counselor at Swarthmore], because this was obviously a substance-rooted issue and mentioned that I personally have substance abuse problems … and was very personal and open and honest,” Pierre said. “And at the end of all of that, they [the deans] kind of said, ‘Thank you for sharing those details. The college has already decided that you are being revoked of campus privileges.”
Pierre noticed similarities between his case and the first gathering on September 5, but also called out some differences, particularly in the scale of the respective gatherings.
“It’s the difference between eleven people without masks… compared to three of us who are of-age. There was more nuance. [The Public Safety officer] was only there patrolling — there wasn’t a noise complaint or anything,” he said.
It is important to note, however, that not much detail has been released with regards to the first party, so The Phoenix is unable to verify whether social distancing or mask protocols were practiced in this specific gathering.
During Pierre’s meeting, the deans informed him that alcohol was not the main issue, but rather the fact that multiple people were in a room and not practicing social distancing.
Two days into his stay in quarantine housing, the school informed Pierre that he could leave without taking a COVID-19 test.
“If [the college] actually cared about the spread of COVID, they would wait for me to get a COVID test back,” Pierre said.
Pierre admitted that his actions were reckless, but he wished that the college tried harder to understand the nuances of his circumstance.
“At the end of the day, I understand the decision, but it feels like there’s more to be discussed here than there were in the past few cases,” Pierre said.
Not all gatherings, even large ones, result in the revocation of housing privileges. On Saturday night, October 3, Public Safety responded to the report of a large social gathering in David Kemp Hall that did not follow social distancing protocols. One DK resident, “Ray,” witnessed this gathering.
“I was walking into my hall, and there were a ton of freshmen in the lounge. I want to say like, around 12, maybe more [of them],” Ray said. “Yeah, they were just all there with no mask on [and] kind of piled up on top of each other in one of the corners.”
Ray was very surprised to see that the students were allowed to stay on campus considering the college’s previous decision to send students home for attending gatherings that did not adhere to the school’s guidelines.
“There were so many people in a room; they weren’t wearing their masks; they may or may not have been using alcohol; and they were on athletic teams,” Ray commented.
What exactly is the Garnet Pledge?
Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Terhune first shared the Garnet Pledge — a set of policies and expectations designed to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 at Swarthmore College — with the student body via email on August 3. All students returning to campus were expected to read, electronically sign, and adhere to these expectations.
Students are required to adhere to college testing protocol and wellness precautions while on-campus. Visitors are not permitted on campus, and students are expected to limit all off-campus activities to only essential errands and may be subject to isolation or quarantine depending on the extent of the excursion. Most students have been caught violating rules regarding social interactions — specifically the prohibition of alcohol, the strict social distancing mandate, and the restrictions on social gatherings.
Similar to the Garnet Pledge it incorporates, the Guide to Residential Living serves as a ‘living document’ which is subject to change by administration depending on evolving health and safety guidelines of the state and federal government. Only recently did the OSE add the names of the quarantine and isolation residence halls at the request of students.
The Phoenix is still not able to clarify the precise relationship between these sets of documents, and how they specifically or collectively factor into the dean office’s decision to revoke housing privileges. For example, although on-campus students signed their agreement to the Garnet Pledge, the Pledge did not specify that the students are also agreeing to adhere to the Guide to Residential Living, which was released days before students returned to campus. Yet, frequently violated policy about the number of residential guests allowed in an individual dorm room is stated in the Guide to Residential Living but absent from the Garnet Pledge. The guideline, however, does explicitly account for places like AP lofts which could host more than one guest practicing proper social distancing and are not classified dorm rooms or community lounges. To the best of The Phoenix’s knowledge, the Guide to Residential Living was never emphasized in school-wide emails or announcements since Rachel Head sent it on August 28. This specific rule regarding dorm-room guests is clarified “in addition to what is outlined in the Garnet Pledge” only on October 14, in an email from Terhune.
How is the Garnet Pledge enforced?
In accordance with their fundamental role to serve the Swarthmore community, the Public Safety helps enforce the safety guidelines enumerated in the Garnet Pledge.
To safeguard the campus, Public Safety officers conduct regular walkthroughs of their assigned buildings, usually one per shift. However in most cases, an officer is responding to their observations or community concerns and complaints.
According to Hill, an officer’s response to an incident is informed by a multitude of factors including their education, experience, and training. It is also based on guidance in the College Handbook, the Housing Rules, and most recently, the Garnet Pledge. Hill also added that it is a routine procedure for Public Safety officers to ask for and record identification.
After an officer responds to a student or group of students violating the Garnet Pledge, they will then notify members of Student Affairs of the incident, depending on the circumstances and the potential need for a follow up by a member of the Dean’s Office.
“Public Safety routinely notifies campus offices, such as OSE and other members of the Dean’s Office, facilities, or others of incidents based on the nature of our involvement and any need for follow up,” Hill said.
What are the consequences of breaking the pledge?
Depending on the severity of the Garnet Pledge violation, students could face consequences ranging from a reminder to denied OneCard access to expulsion from campus. Echoing the Garnet Pledge’s description, Miller called the administration’s approach educational and not disciplinarian.
“It’s important to underscore that the actions we take in response to violations of the Garnet Pledge are not intended to be punitive,” Miller wrote to The Phoenix. “The purpose of the Garnet Pledge is to minimize the potential for COVID-19 to spread within our community.”
Reports of potential Garnet Pledge violations usually come from either Public Safety as discussed above or from the Office of Student Engagement; as Head explained, these roles entail after-hours support. The respective office brings the report to senior staff in the Dean’s Office, primarily Terhune, Sakomura, and Miller, who would then review the details of the incident to decide if a violation occurred and later meet with the accused parties.
“If [a violation did occur], and it is deemed that a student broke their commitment to the Pledge and, as a result, jeopardized the health and safety of the campus community, we remove their eligibility to remain in campus housing,” wrote Miller.
While Miller noted that most cases of student violations result in a reminder to adhere to safe, Garnet Pledge sanctioned practices (mask wearing, physical distancing, staying in small groups), some cases result in more severe consequences. Students who neglect to show up for their scheduled COVID-19 tests are issued an official warning that they will be required to leave campus if they do not make up their test on the day they specified. A similar warning is issued to students who miss symptom tracking days. Miller also said a student’s OneCard may also be suspended until they successfully meet the expectations of the Pledge, and only in the case of the most egregious violations would their housing privileges be removed.
As of September 23, the dean’s office had revoked housing privileges for at least 21 students due to Garnet Pledge violations, excluding Pierre and his two friends. Miller explained that the Dean’s Office chose to not make certain incidents public.
“We will, on occasion, update the campus community on issues related to COVID-19, including as they relate to the Garnet Pledge, but the College does not intend to send an update to the community regarding every conversation or violation of the Pledge,” he said.
Garnet Pledge violations are not marked on students’ official discipline transcript. After their housing privileges are revoked, according to Head, students are moved to quarantine housing and are given two to three days to arrange alternative housing. The college offers them campus storage and a room and board refund that is prorated to the number of weeks the student lived in campus housing.
An additional notable indication that a student may have violated the Garnet Pledge is if they have contracted the COVID-19 virus.
“If it were determined that a person who is positive for COVID-19 had violated the Garnet Pledge in a way that would result in that person having their permission to remain on campus revoked, they would not be required to leave campus until after they had isolated/quarantined for the appropriate length of time and were well enough to do so,” wrote Miller.
Future of the Garnet Pledge
As evidenced by the recent positive-case spike among Swarthmore students, COVID-19 is still a threat to the campus community, and students still hold the responsibility to practice safe distances. At the same time, the college also holds responsibility to not only set the proper safety guidelines, but to also deal with violations fairly and appropriately. When asked about transparency, Mike Hill introduced the new Community Resource Officer program, which was announced in an email on September 18.
“CROs will serve as a liaison to RCCs and RAs in residence halls and community partners in every academic/administrative building in order to build stronger relationships between Public Safety and the rest of the campus community,” Hill wrote in an email to The Phoenix.
Some of the students who were sent home also stressed that it is important that the college continue to take COVID-19 and Garnet Pledge violations seriously.
“While I’m glad they’re at least taking COVID very seriously, this should not equate to authoritarian measures that could put other students in more dangerous situations, in regard to physical and mental health first and foremost,” said Pierre.
Nicole Liu and Trina Paul contributed reporting