College warns students to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, issues new Zero Tolerance policy

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College of William and Mary students have received texts and emails this week emphasizing the importance of adhering to the university's Healthy Together agreement. MATT LOWRIE / THE FLAT HAT

Students at the College of William and Mary received a notice via text the evening of Friday, Aug. 21 that their ability to adhere to campus COVID-19 safety protocols over the weekend would determine the university’s path forward for the fall semester.

In a series of emails and mass texts from university officials this week, the College has claimed insufficient adherence to its policies regarding mandatory mask usage and six-foot social distancing while on campus. Freshmen, international students, orientation aides, resident assistants and other student employees have been present in Williamsburg since last Wednesday, while other returning students are still anticipated to return in early September.

The College’s communication to students, staff and community members has intensified in recent days, with College President Katherine Rowe and Dean of Students Marjorie Thomas sending emails alleging that students have broken guidelines enunciated by the Healthy Together agreement.  Students were mandated to sign the Healthy Together agreement before returning to campus, and Rowe reminded them of their responsibilities both as College students and as Williamsburg residents in an email sent Tuesday, Aug. 18.

“It is imperative that we all hold ourselves accountable for keeping our campus and neighbors safe,” Rowe said in an email. “… All have agreed explicitly to our guidelines as a condition of learning or employment.”

In an email also sent Aug. 18 by the Dean of Students Office, Thomas laid out consequences for students who failed to abide by COVID-19 safety protocols, enunciating multiple possible punishments including issuing COVID-19 conduct flags on student transcripts, banning students from on-campus housing, or suspending students for the fall 2020 semester.

“Violations of this personal commitment endanger our collective well-being and will result in disciplinary action,” Thomas said in an email.

These emails were reinforced by mass texts sent to students which encouraged adherence to the College’s mask policy. 

“If you see something, say something … Hold one another accountable. Do not test the resolve of this university to take swift action to prioritize the health and well-being of our campus and the Williamsburg community.” 

The College adopted a sharper tone Friday, Aug. 21, when students received a second email from the Dean of Students Office announcing a new Zero Tolerance policy, which introduces immediate consequences for any student who fails to comply with campus guidelines. Additionally, the email stipulated that students’ failure to obey the new policy over the course of the Aug. 22-23 weekend would ultimately shape the university’s decision on how to best respond to COVID-19, including its intended return to in-person classes after Labor Day.

“I write to those of you who continue to act in selfish ways that put our in-person semester at risk,” Thomas said in the email. “There will be repercussions if you do not abide by our safety protocols. We are firm in our convictions – our actions will be swift and direct for those who aren’t following the guidelines we have in place.” 

The College’s new Zero Tolerance policy bans gatherings of more than 10 people, both on and off campus, while also emphasizing mask and physical distancing mandates. Those who are found to have violated these mandates will be required to leave and remain off campus for the remainder of the semester as well as potentially face suspension. A full itemized list of infractions and consequences now appears on the Dean of Students’ website.  

In addition, WMPD, other local departments and university administrators will be conducting party patrols to document students in violation of the new policies. Students themselves are encouraged to report violations through the new COVID Concerns form. 

“If you see something, say something … Hold one another accountable,” Thomas said in an email. “… Do not test the resolve of this university to take swift action to prioritize the health and well-being of our campus and the Williamsburg community.” 

Thomas concluded her email by calling for a commitment to keep the College open, despite other schools closing.

 “The world is watching, and we want W&M to be the model for how universities can successfully operate in person during a pandemic,” Thomas said. “This is the time to show everyone what W&M students are capable of doing. Without your compliance, our fall semester on campus will be over before it starts. We can succeed where so many other schools could not – that number of universities is growing daily. We can do this – but only if we are ALL IN together.”