College bars 22 students from campus for Covid-19 policy violations

Gatherings in Atwater residence halls Thursday night end in students sent home

By Amelia Pollard

Atwater residence halls, the site of the two gatherings Thursday night. (BENJY RENTON)

UPDATE: Sept. 22 at 7 pm

Students who are removed from campus for Covid-19 violations will not be refunded for room and board, “absent exceptional circumstances of economic hardship,” according to Sarah Ray, director of media relations.

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With Middlebury’s carefully considered reopening plan, students have eagerly awaited every new phase. Last Thursday, students were jubilant to enter Phase Two, allowing them to venture into downtown Middlebury and Addison County. The college even celebrated by hosting food trucks on campus Friday that proffered free pulled pork sandwiches and fresh doughnuts.

But for two groups of students, specifically residents of the notoriously party-centric Atwater residence halls, festivities came to a grinding halt when Public Safety officers knocked on their doors Thursday night. In both cases, officers discovered gatherings over the maximum occupancy limit of six for the spaces, and over the indoor gathering limit of ten people. There were two gatherings of 14 and 15 students in different Atwater suites, according to students present. In the second case, several students managed to leave without incident, dodging the Public Safety officers and escaping from one of the suite’s two exits before the officers demanded student IDs. 

The 22 students written up by Public Safety met individually with Brian Lind, the associate dean of conduct, on Friday morning over Zoom, according to two upperclassmen involved in the episode. He notified them that those living on campus would need to leave for violating college policy, and students living in off-campus residences would lose access to the campus and its facilities, including in-person classes. The college has been tight-lipped about the incidents and Lind did not respond to multiple emails for comment. 

According to a college media statement sent to The Campus Monday, “students removed from campus because of Covid-19 violations are ordinarily eligible to return in the following semester.” The statement also indicated that the reprimanded students will not be allowed to “visit, study, or take courses on campus” for the remainder of the semester.

The students were given 24 hours to appeal the decision before college officials issued their final verdict on Sunday. Anonymous sources involved in the incidents say that all of the students who appealed received the same letter Sunday night: they were not allowed to remain on campus and needed to move out within 24 hours, by Monday night at 7 p.m. The letters were so identical that two students mistakenly received letters addressed to friends who were also at the gatherings.

From day one, the administration has established a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to Covid-19 policy violations. There are no strikes or warnings: one violation, and you could be out. Despite the glimmer of hope that the appeals process provides, none of the students who appealed were able to remain on campus. The college has already sent home five students for breaching Covid-19 policy, bringing the grand total to 27 students who are now not allowed on campus.

To some, the college’s stringent policy does not recognize students’ varying socioeconomic situations. “I wish there was more of a warning system because the consequence of getting sent home does not have the same effect for all students,” said Tre Stephens ’21, a student who was not involved in the incidents that occurred last Thursday. “But granted, students shouldn’t be breaking the rules.”

Middlebury’s success so far has relied on peer-to-peer accountability, or what some might see as peer pressure. In both instances last Thursday, students at the gatherings suspected that they were “snitched” on by a student who called Public Safety to report loud noise coming from the suites. The link “go/snitch” has become a source of banter on campus as students jokingly — and not so jokingly — threaten to report one another through the college’s reporting page.

The college has so far successfully thwarted a Covid-19 outbreak on campus, with only two students testing positive for the virus who have since recovered. Middlebury currently has 0 active cases on campus, with 6,3969 tests already administered according to the college’s Covid-19 reporting dashboard.

The punished students who were registered for in-person courses faced the difficult task on Monday of notifying professors that they were no longer allowed to attend class. Sources close to a few of these students said that while some professors were willing to make concessions, at least one professor notified a student that they would need to drop the class. At this point, it is unclear whether students would receive a refund for room and board.

Since the events Thursday night, the mood in the Atwater complex has been somber. “When I went out Saturday, it was dead quiet,” said Atwater resident Andrew Ng ’22. “The administration definitely sent a strong message.”