After over 100 students missed mandatory biweekly COVID-19 testing the week of Sept. 13, Dean of Students Tomoko Sakomura and Senior Associate Dean of Student Life Nathan Miller sent an email to all students listing potential consequences for missing COVID-19 tests.
“Failure to test as required will result in disciplinary action up to and including suspension from the College,” wrote the Deans in the email.
In the emails sent to the student body and to The Phoenix, Miller did not differentiate between the potential implications for international students and domestic students who miss a COVID-19 test. In an email to international students on September 17, Assistant Dean and Director of International Student Programs Jennifer Marks-Gold, however, informed international students of the consequences of missing a test.
“Students who miss their scheduled time will get a warning. Students who miss more than once will encounter student conduct sanctions, potential removal from campus, and suspension,” Marks-Gold wrote. “As an international student, I want to remind you that if you are asked to leave campus, you may not stay in the United States. We would have to terminate your record in SEVIS for suspension. You would have to exit the United States immediately. No grace period.”
While it is unclear how many missed COVID-19 tests could warrant a conduct violation and/or suspension, the potential consequences have especially significant implications for international students.
Most international students at Swarthmore retain their right to study at the college through a student visa, a special passport endorsement issued by the United States government that permits foreign students to remain in the U.S. as long as they are/remain enrolled at a particular U.S. educational institution. When a student on a student visa is suspended from their university, their enrollment status is temporarily terminated and they can no longer hold a student visa, forcing them to immediately return to their home country.
International student and i20 Club co-President Sarthak Harjai ’24 believes that the potential consequences for missing a COVID-19-19 test disproportionately impact international students because of their impact on student visa statuses.
“When you’re not enrolled in classes, Marks-Gold has to terminate your status, [meaning] that you have to leave the U.S. immediately. There’s no grace period. And obviously, that’s a pretty big issue … Swat doesn’t properly understand what it means to kick off an international student,” Harjai said in an interview with The Phoenix.
In addition to describing what might happen to an international student facing suspension, Harjai elaborated on potential issues for re-acquiring student visas after a student has been suspended.
“[After] your student visa status gets terminated and you get kicked out … you have to go through the process again to come back next semester… If you get suspended and you apply for a new student visa, [the embassy] can ask you why you were suspended. That could be an issue with getting a student visa all over again,” he said.
While Harjai believes that these missed-test consequences pose serious issues for international students, he also recognizes that testing is necessary and important.
“I think testing is obviously important and I agree with getting tested and I think people should. I also agree that it [is] an issue that people have not been attending testing … I don’t know if telling people that they might be removed from campus or suspended is the right way to incentivize testing, [but I also] don’t know what the other policies could be,” he stated.
Despite so many students forgetting to take COVID-19 tests, Miller believes that both the warnings and weekly testing reminders emailed to students in advance of their tests will encourage students to attend testing in the future.
“More often than not, students are very apologetic about missing a COVID-19 test and the combination of warnings and weekly reminders seems to prevent students from missing multiple tests,” he wrote.
Like Miller, Harjai also believes that the weekly reminders are helpful and thinks that the college should send out more of them in advance of the testing date. He also notes that reminders were seemingly not sent out last week in advance of the Sept. 20 testing date.
“[I think that] more reminders … should help. [Last] week when we had the test there were no reminders sent out properly. Usually they send out reminders … but [last] week there weren’t any and I think more people must have missed it because of that,” he said.
Harjai also believes that make-up tests should be offered for students who miss their tests and agrees that some consequences for missed tests are necessary.
“I’m not saying that there should be no consequences for people that are consecutively missing [tests] … I agree with a first warning [and] a second warning [but] beyond that I don’t think I would suspend someone for any of this. Maybe, [a kind of] probation or a meeting with the deans rather than a straight-up suspension, and I’m not even sure if they do that,” he said.
Miller emphasized that warnings do not remain on a student’s permanent conduct record but would be taken into account after repeated violations.
“These warnings, whether informal or part of the Student Conduct process, are not considered part of a student’s permanent student conduct record, though they would be taken into consideration if a student engaged in repeated violations,” he wrote.
In his interview with The Phoenix, Harjai expressed that these consequences should be more explicitly outlined by the administration. He also believes that missed-test consequences should reflect whether or not the student intended to miss a test.
“There should…be a distinction between whether you missed it in good faith or you missed it intentionally, or if you just generally forgot. Then I feel like the consequences should be slightly more severe,” he said.