The rise and fall of go/snitch

Accountability and community reporting in the age of Covid-19

By Riley Board

Pia Contreras
Though students can no longer use the form, it is still available for townspeople to report violations.

Last fall, go/snitch, the website shortcut for Middlebury’s Covid-19 violation reporting page, was ubiquitous on campus. It was used as a verb (“I just go/snitched on that group of 20 people”) in jest, and as a reply to questions about how to handle observations of violations. Technically, it was the repository for student concerns about the behavior of their maskless or partying peers. 

This spring, it no longer exists. 

Dean of Students Derek Doucet announced in a Feb. 2 email that the college would be sunsetting the violation reporting page because the form cultivated an “unhealthy atmosphere” of surveillance and anxiety. Created last fall to manage the flood of violation reports from the community in town, go/snitch embedded itself in the culture and discourse of Middlebury’s first in-person Covid-era semester. Despite its short existence and discontinuation this February, some believe the form should persist as a tool of student accountability. 

The origin of go/snitch

Brian Lind, associate dean of judicial affairs and student life, created the form before the fall 2020 semester. 

“It was born out of necessity,” Lind said. After being inundated with emails from the community reporting observed violations in August, the form was created as a management strategy for the flow of concerns Lind received. 

As for the term go/snitch, Jack Landrigan ’22 created the go link during his fall two week pre-arrival quarantine, mostly as a joke. Despite only telling a few friends about it, by the time he got to campus, his own RA was telling their hall to use go/snitch for reporting violations. 

“People are fed up with watching so many people not following rules for so many months that snitching has become okay,” Landrigan said this fall. “It is a rebellion against those too self-centered to save other people’s lives.” 

Behind the form, Lind was working to juggle reports that came through go/snitch, from ResLife staff and from Public Safety. In early September, Lind told The Campus that five to seven reports came through the form each day. 

The biggest flaw of the violation form was the submission of reports that didn’t include enough information to appropriately act upon, which was a majority of reports Lind received last fall. Identifiers like names or room numbers were usually required for action; without one of these pieces of information, following up was often impossible. 

Contrary to popular belief, the form was not the fastest or most effective way to resolve a situation because it was not monitored 24/7. As a result, reports about temporary gatherings or exceeded room capacities were hard to resolve days later when the responses were eventually checked. Lind said that the way people used the form suggested they weren’t aware of this. 

Syr Esposito ’22, who worked in ResLife as a Community Assistant of Atwater Hall B last fall, was not expected to be on duty the way that underclassmen ResLife staff are and appreciated the extra support that the form provided in potentially overlooked areas. 

In an interview in September, Esposito noted that few people reached out to her directly about Covid-19 rule violations, likely because of the existence of the form. “People are just taking that into their own hands,” she said. 

However, she also acknowledged the ways that the form impacted student culture. 

“I can see how the model fuels distrust among peers and makes people feel paranoid,” she said. 

Last fall, 22 students were sent home in late September for large gatherings; those students suspected that they had been snitched on. Citing the power and consequences of the form, Esposito said, “This is not something to be abused. It’s not something that you take lightly.” 

Lind noted that the college’s Health Pledge asks students to live in a very deliberate and unfamiliar way, and that because everyone can use gentle reminders of those expectations, his hope is that students are willing to provide those reminders to their peers. 

“I’m always one who promotes mutual accountability, especially in communities,” Lind said. “I think the existence of a reporting structure can be helpful in a case where it wouldn’t be safe or prudent for students to address the situation. But if you’re … walking and see someone without a mask on, I would hope for our community’s sake that people would feel comfortable reminding each other and holding each other accountable in that way.”

Esposito said she disliked the term “snitch” as it applied to the form, because the negative connotation of snitching displaces blame from those committing the violation to those reporting it, implying that the latter was doing something wrong. 

Lind said that he believes the name was used humorously but also noted the negative associations of snitching. 

“I’m sure there are people who feel like it’s the worst thing you could do, to submit a report, and yet we get reports, so there are some people that believe that it’s necessary,” he said. 

A snitch-free spring

After the fall semester ended with three student cases and a last-minute campus lockdown, Midd students headed home unsure of what differences in disciplinary enforcement the spring would bring. In February, before students returned to campus, Doucet announced that the form would no longer exist because of its role in creating an, “unhealthy atmosphere on campus in which students felt under constant surveillance by peers.”

“Students described a fear of inadvertently making a mistake, being reported and ending up facing a Covid-19 health and safety violation,” he wrote. 

Doucet said that those consequences were unintentional and concerning. He also wrote that the form would stay open to townspeople who wish to report concerns. 

In an interview with The Campus, Doucet said that the decision to get rid of the form was based purely on student concerns about the type of atmosphere that it created on campus and the “climate in which students felt overly scrutinized by their peers.” 

“I also heard from students that some believed the form created a disincentive to students respectfully addressing Covid-related concerns with one another,” Doucet said, noting that conversations around the issues with the form took place late in the fall semester. 

In the absence of the form, Doucet said that students can report violations they observe to ResLife, their residential directors, the student life deans or Public Safety. 

“Our hope for student behavior in the absence of the form remains the same as it was when the form was in use,” he said. “We hope that students continue to follow the necessary health and safety expectations in place in order to protect one another and the surrounding community, and that they respectfully engage with one another when they have concerns about Covid safety related behaviors.”

Conversations about the value of go/snitch as a device for students continued at the start of the spring semester after the page had been disabled. On the anonymous confession Instagram account MiddConfessions, a post about Covid-related confessions includes one slide that reads, “I actually liked go/snitch.” Another critiques those who made use of the form in the fall. 

Isabella Conety ’24, who advocated for bringing back go/snitch in the comments of that post, has been frustrated by blatant safety violations she’s observed this semester. 

“The idea of [go/snitch] ending because it is pitting students against each other is such a cop-out excuse,” she said. “It’s meant to hold each other accountable.”

Conety noted that she has high-risk family members and knows what it’s like to be scared for people she cares about. “I know there’s high-risk people here as well, and I want to do everything possible to keep them safe, even if it means snitching on people who are reoccurring offenders of the policies,” she said. 

She acknowledged the form may not be missed by many but said that she knows “there’s a good chunk of us who miss the ability to hold others accountable.” 

This semester, typing go/snitch will take you to the college’s homepage, but Middlebury students are still racking up Covid violations. Just three weeks after move-in, 74 students have already been disciplined for violations. In contrast, only 108 students were disciplined over the course of the entire fall semester. No students have been removed from campus this spring at the time of publication.