Inside Baseball on the Student Compact

First things first, thanks to all our P’24s and ’24s who came to the Town Hall last night. In case you missed it, you can watch it here. My colleague Dr. Cherise James, who was one of the presenters, is working on follow up communications to P’24s, which we hope to send out Friday or Monday.

For our P’21s-’23s (and your students), there will be a Town Hall tonight at 7 pm for you. The website is go.wfu.edu/ourwayforwardtownhall. No login or password needed. We will be emailing the link sometime between 12-3 pm. Please check your spam folder, as some folks report the email is landed there (you may wish to add a filter so that @wfu.edu emails go to your Inbox or talk to your IT department/ISP about how to ensure @wfu.edu emails don’t get sent to spam).

Today I am going to give you a little bit of Inside Baseball on a project that is currently taking place. Wake was mentioned in a story in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled Colleges Say They Can Reopen Safely. But Will Students Follow the Rules? (For any of you who have a subscription, you can read the full story here.) The story is about how schools will approach public health guidance and campus behavior when the fall semester begins.

Wake is mentioned in this article because of an innovative team we have pulled together to create a kind of student compact, or agreement, that “is designed to guide student behavior off campus and in other scenarios where faculty and staff members aren’t around,” as well as behaviors on campus and in the classroom. The group is comprised of some student leaders and some students who are “social influencers,” so it is a broad range of student interests and activities represented. There are Greeks and non-Greeks, domestic and international students, student-athletes and library ambassadors, and students of various identities (there are also administrators on the team, of which I am one). Part of the goal of this group is to consider how students can/will hold each other accountable in residence halls, off-campus apartments, and social gatherings – particularly when there are no faculty or administrators present.

Our work started with students being briefed by public-health experts about COVID (how it is spread, its impact on college-age people vs. vulnerable populations, etc.) and what measures exist to reduce the likelihood of spread of COVID (e.g., mask wearing, physical distancing, frequent hand washing, etc.). With that public health knowledge as a background, the group has begun to see why public health restrictions are needed.

At this week’s meeting, students broke into smaller groups to focus on how student behavior could impact the following: inter- or intrapersonal behavior; organizations/clubs/teams at Wake; the campus community as a whole; the city of Winston-Salem and local community.

It’s been a great group to be a part of, because it is really focused on student voices. Other than the public health briefing (which was led by administrative experts), our students are doing most of the talking, sharing very honestly what they see as issues and concerns, revealing insight about student behavior, and which kinds of expectations will be harder than others.

I want to share a few quotes (anonymously) that have come out of our work to date. The public health briefing seemed particularly sobering for our students when they realized what could happen if there was a large scale outbreak on campus:

If we don’t manage public health on campus now, our semester could really abruptly end – and no one wants that.

[one fraternity member said] I’m happy to go to zero social functions if it means I can see my friends.

If I can be here and be with my friends, even if it is not ideally what I wanted it to be like, it would be worth it.

Looking at all the regulations and guidelines (wearing a mask if you are leaving your home, using entrance-only or exit-only doors, etc.), it is a little hard to accept. But when you look at the alternative (being home on Zoom), then you see why we have to do it.

The group is also grappling with some very real considerations of how public health measures can have differential impact based on your identity: “There are things that feel like ‘no-brainers’ (like wearing masks) that are actually ‘brainers’ as they apply to people of color, lest they be mistaken for someone who may cause harm.”

Our work will wrap up in July, and the ultimate goal is to help inform a prevention-education campaign and to create social norms that will align with the public health expectations for students, whenever those are finalized.

I did not know most of these students before this meeting, but I am incredibly impressed with them. They are insightful, thoughtful, energetic, and committed to helping us have a successful fall semester. This is all encouraging news.

One of the biggest challenges is the necessity that everyone will need to do their part to keep the community safe. Even if we don’t like a particular requirement. Even – or maybe especially – when no administrators, faculty, or staff are present. Parents and families, we need you to help stress this to your Deacs at home. A successful semester means that everyone has to make smart choices all the time. As said by one of our students on the team “We’re going to need to take some precautions, so we all make it to the finish line.”

 

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)

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