Some perspective on behavioral expectations

Yesterday there was a message sent to parents and families about a lot of the finer points of public health compliance and what the fall looks like. Read it here, as it contains a lot of very important information. I want to build upon that message by adding a little additional perspective.

Every August, just before school starts, I post a Daily Deac that is geared towards new students, alerting them to the fact that once Move-In takes place, they will start hearing about parties that older students are throwing. And that students under 21 need to think carefully and make wise choices. 

This year, with COVID, there are new considerations that ALL students need to hear, not just the ‘24s. Please, families, read this carefully.

In normal/non-COVID times, new students need to know that local police in every college town in America are keenly aware that there is a new crop of underage drinkers who could run afoul of the “21 and over” law to drink. Winston-Salem is no different. Each year, I get a late night text within a few days of Move-In telling me that there is a large group of students who are being cited for underage drinking at an off-campus location. A good rule of thumb is if you are at a place where there are tons of students standing around in the front yard/back yard with red solo cups in hand, or a lot of parked cars, or really loud music, the neighbors are going to think it is a party and call the police. 

New students – and families – need to know that off campus parties are the jurisdiction of Winston-Salem police, not campus police. If you are an underage guest and you get cited, you have a city police problem AND a WFU Code of Conduct problem. That is not a phone call you want to make to your loved ones only a few days after they drop you off at Wake “Hi, Dad. I got cited for underage possession by Winston-Salem police and I might need a lawyer…” (I have had students I know who had to make that call. Not fun.)

So that’s the caution for a normal year. Now let’s talk about the new twist that COVID creates.

Because of COVID and the need to preserve public health, there is a mandate (both statewide and at the University level) to avoid large gatherings, aka parties. Parties can be “superspreader” events that infect a large number of people. One superspreader party could compromise our semester and/or cause serious issues for the health and wellbeing of our students, faculty, and staff. For individuals at high risk, COVID could represent a threat to their health, ability to do their job, or even their life.

Because the stakes are so high, the consequences of actions that could threaten the health of our community are equally high. For students at a party that exceeds safe guidelines, and for the residents of that property who are hosting that party, they face – at minimum – educational requirements and being unable to participate in activities, and – at maximum – suspension or expulsion from Wake Forest. Suspension or expulsion would mean they can’t finish the semester and would lose that semester’s tuition and the classes they are taking. Even students who are on the lease but are not physically present for the party would have a student conduct hearing to: 1) determine their role in the event (if any), and 2) to affirm their responsibility to have an agreement with the others on the lease about what should and should not occur on their property.

Every student must be vigilant in their commitment to respecting the health and safety of others as they would respect their own. This includes ensuring that students do not sponsor or host parties that could spread COVID-19 to others. When students sign their name to a lease, they and their housemates become responsible for what occurs inside the residence. This is true whether a party is intentional and planned, or unintentional but the amount of attendees grows organically. This will require housemates to talk and reach agreement about what will and won’t occur in each residence.  

While perhaps the biggest concern is parties, there are other safety rules everyone must follow (masking, social distance, handwashing, etc.). If you are asked to quarantine or stay in isolation, you must do that for the full time required. And if you violate those public health rules, you could be subject to the same consequences, up to suspension or expulsion. 

I say all this not to alarm you, but to be transparent and arm you with information that could save your Deacs some pain later. Please urge your Deacs not to put themselves in a situation where they can endanger themselves or others, or are likely to face a severe consequence. This isn’t a call for you to lecture your students, but to explain that COVID is a whole new world with rules that are far less flexible than the slap-on-the-wrist that might have come with normal college shenanigans, and you want to help them think before they act so that they have the best semester possible.


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

Categories: the daily deac

Recent Posts