April 4, 2021

BETTEZ | Where Are the Consequences for the Partiers?

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Every other week feels like the same story: case numbers steadily increase on the COVID dashboard and a new message from Pres. Martha Pollack that goes something like this:

“Even more disturbing than the number of new cases is what is behind those numbers: a blatant disregard by some students for the public health requirements contained in the Behavioral Compact that each of you have agreed to uphold.”

But again and again, there are no consequences for those “some students” who refuse to abide by the behavioral compact. We’ve seen this play out many times over this past year. Cornell has clearly demonstrated its willingness to dole out some (long overdue) consequences — cutting off access to class resources and campus for missed surveillance tests. 

But these punishments feel like they’re missing the real and intentional culprits: those holding and attending superspreader parties that seem to be the cause of every uptick in cases. People letting a test slip their mind in the midst of their busy schedules and making it up the next morning are hardly the sole cause of these rising cases.

Here’s how I see it: I’m a senior who’s lost my entire final year of college to COVID-19. What’s stopping me from ignoring regulations all together and partying as much as I can to reclaim my final year on campus? Judging by Cornell’s enforcement record, as long as I adhere to my testing days  there will be no consequences from the university. 

I guess I might end up getting tested three times a week instead of two, but that’s not even a punishment. I don’t mind getting tested and it’s reassuring to be told three times a week instead of two that I don’t have COVID. I obviously won’t do that because I have a basic sense of morality and don’t want to get anyone sick, but who’s to stop the people who are demonstrating time and time again that they don’t share those same values of protecting the public? 

I’m not alone in my frustrations regarding Cornell’s handling of our campus’s partiers. It seems like on campus, there are certain sets of people who are above the rules and can do whatever they want without consequence — and to no one’s surprise they tend to be the privileged members of Cornell’s fraternities and sororities. 

Should we follow Peter Buoanno’s ’21 advice of revising the Campus Code? Should we cut off access to Canvas and campus wifi for offenders? 

 Honestly, I think we should go farther and just kick them off campus entirely. It’s within Cornell’s right for breaking the behavioral compact, and has been effective for other schools. Obviously, we can’t kick off-campus students out of their private residences, but we can send all students who live in sorority and fraternity houses, co-ops and dorms home. And for off-campus students we can move to entirely remote coursework, remove their access to campus wifi, and end their keycard access for the rest of their semester.

Cornell’s current practices are unfair to the thousands of other students and staff who are  put at risk every time the university fails to effectively punish those responsible, and without punishment embolden them to continue their reckless behavior. 

Some may say that lenient punishments encourage students to honestly comply  with contact tracing without fear of subjecting themselves and their peers to major consequences. But these practices are short term band-aids that lead to even bigger problems as we just narrowly avoided our first orange-level alert an entire year after the pandemic sent us all home. To compromise between contract tracing and adequate consequences, we could alter the severity of punishments for those who turn themselves in early and honestly reveal others involved. 

Clearly, those involved aren’t listening to morality or reasoning when they choose to repeatedly attend parties. They don’t deserve the University’s leniency. 

I just want to see fair and reasonable punishments doled out to those responsible for endangering the community, both for justice to those following the rules and to deter future rule-breaking. I want to make it to my own vaccination dates and my (hopefully) in-person graduation ceremony without getting sick. The time for leniency is done. It hasn’t worked. It’s time for real consequences.

Michaela Bettez is a junior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected]. Bet on It runs every other Monday this semester.