Opinion Asks: ‘Noncompliant Social Interactions’

by The Dartmouth Opinion Staff | 3/4/21 2:00am

Amid an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak on campus, cases have risen to more than 140 and students have been thrown back into quarantine. On Wednesday, Provost Joseph Helble stated that "trends continue to suggest that noncompliant social interactions — particularly those where people are not wearing masks or observing adequate physical distancing — are the primary cause of this increase in virus transmission." Should the College hold accountable these people responsible for “noncompliant social interactions?" If so, how?

In the beginning of the winter term, I was glad to see that the College had implemented a warning for those who are caught in violation of social distancing or mask wearing policies. Despite this outbreak, I don't think that the administration should return to the “zero-tolerance” policy that it had in the fall.

That being said, for more serious offenses — attending a superspreader event, for instance — the College should continue to hold its students accountable. Every now and then students may forget to wear their masks when they hang out with a few friends, but choosing to attend a superspreader event is a deliberate decision that cannot be dismissed in the same way. For this reason, the College should take the magnitude of each violation into account on a case-by-case basis.

— Kami Arabian ’24

Spending time and resources on punishing students for allegedly spreading the virus is futile. It is ridiculous to expect this retributive method to bear much fruit without a Soviet-style system of informing on one’s peers in place. Students would not cooperate with contact tracing efforts if their honesty could lead to their friends being harshly disciplined. The College is much better served by continuing its effective current strategy for containing this current outbreak: testing, tracing and quarantining infected students. Working on term papers and studying for finals while holed up in one’s room is punishment enough. 

— Thomas de Wolff ’24

I’m afraid that recent statements put out by the College are “all bark and no bite.” Realistically, there is nothing that the College can do to stop students who live locally off campus from participating in large gatherings. The reinstatement of strict COVID-19 containment measures on campus does not address the main source of the problem, nor does it “hold accountable” the select groups of students whose reckless actions contributed to the current outbreak. Students will continue to violate COVID-19 guidelines where they are able to do so: off campus. Plus, attempts to “punish” students — in the short term — for large gatherings would likely decrease the effectiveness of contact-tracing efforts and generate greater paranoia among rule followers. It’s a lose-lose situation.

— Michael Harrison ’24

The College should be holding people responsible for breaking social distancing rules — but not when the consequences to breaking such rules are so ambiguously communicated, or when there is so much distrust coming from both the administration and the student body. This term, it is clear that the students testing positive are not willing to give up all the names of the people they could have been in contact with for proper and necessary contact tracing, as they are worried about the consequences they might face. While the College has communicated through emails that information regarding contact tracing won't be released, the student body has reason to not trust this sentiment. I do believe students should be held responsible for unsafe interactions, but it is hard to justify it when the rules regarding consequences have been ambiguous from the start. 

— Gemma Tung ’23