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UVM students petition against ‘inhumane’ COVID safety enforcement

Published: Mar. 14, 2021 at 12:00 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - University of Vermont students are banding together against the administration and decrying the enforcement of COVID safety protocols on campus.

First-year students who live on campus are accusing the administration of imposing “strict and inhumane living conditions” and taking enforcement too far.

“We’re under constant surveillance from the [resident advisors] essentially,” said Joey Looney.

“You’re still constantly on edge. Like, ‘Is an RA listening? Can I listen to music in my dorm?’” said Ian Lynch. “I feel like a lot of people feel like they can’t breathe. They’re trapped. And we’re just wondering how long this is going to go on for,” April Hall said.

A student-led petition that has gotten more than 3,000 signatures as of Saturday night claims resident advisors are patrolling the halls every 30 minutes and are issuing instant suspensions, even for what students consider to be minor infractions, such as not wearing a mask in communal spaces.

Michael Rogan wrote the petition after seven of his friends were suspended for gathering at an off-campus hotel.

“Some of them had no prior offenses and they’re students losing $30,000, $40,000 scholarships and these are my friends, like my best friends, that I’ve been stuck with here for almost two semesters now,” Rogan said.

UVM Vice President Gary Derr defended the university’s decision saying that gathering was a serious violation of the Green and Gold Pledge.

“If one of those students was positive in that room and we have six or seven other positive students and then those students had been back on campus, that could exponentially grow to 60 students coming out of that one party,” Derr said. “If they chose to do that, they made a conscious decision to take that risk.”

While many students believe the consequences are too strict, some agree that those who don’t follow the rules should be punished.

“I think you just have to be smarter about what you’re doing rather than getting in big groups and getting suspended and then getting mad about it,” said Jillian Brown. “I really don’t know why people are so mad if they were breaking the rules in the first place.”

Derr says roughly 420 students have gone through the judiciary process and about 20 students have been kicked off campus. He denies that students are being suspended on a first offense, unless it’s something major, like attending a large gathering.

Derr admits the university has stepped up patrols inside the dorms after an increase in on-campus COVID cases in February.

“Are [resident advisors] being a little more attentive? Yeah, probably. But they need to be because what we want to do is control that spread of the virus on our campus to other students,” Derr said.

Students say their mental health is being severely impacted by the increased surveillance.

“I’ve heard, definitely, some upsetting stories. I know a few people, last semester, that left because they were unhappy and this semester has been even worse with these suspension rules,” said Ursula Walczak. “And we’re afraid to leave our dorms. I’m afraid to play music in my dorm if I’m in there alone. It just feels like I’m walking on eggshells all the time.”

“Everyone is just down terrible. They’re not OK. No one’s happy here. There are students that are leaving. Not because they’re suspended because of COVID but because they’re not happy here,” said Rogan.

Derr says he understands the mental toll this is taking on students and he is hopeful the rules can be loosened in the near future, but he’s asking for students’ cooperation in stopping the spread.

“What we really need to do is see those social gatherings drop which will lead to a decline in positive cases on campus which will enable all of us to relax and breathe a little bit calmly. As you know, the governor allowed households to gather on Friday at his press conference. We’re looking at that and we’re looking at how we’re going to implement that on campus and we expect to make some announcement on how we might allow students from two households to get together on campus safely,” Derr said.

Any students in need of emergency mental help can call 802-656-3340.

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