There is something that is being overlooked at our institution when it comes to COVID-19 reporting: the process of COVID-19 reporting could be and is being used to target BIPOC students. It is easy for someone to abuse these rules for their own gain. Yes, there has to be proof, and there is proof being used. However, the punishment is not being applied fairly across the board.
It is important that the students at Meredith College follow the COVID-19 guidelines the school has implemented; they were created to keep the campus safe and to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Based on guidelines created by infectious disease experts, students should be wearing masks and washing their hands, and Meredith encourages students to report instances of rule-breaking they observe. Because of the digital age, reports of students breaking the Community Standards frequently originate from social media posts. Photos that have been posted on social media since the start of the 2020-21 school year have shown that many students are not following the standards, although pictures do not always tell the full story. When a student is reported, an email is sent to them stating the offense and what the punishment is. Yet, even if there are multiple people in the photo, only one person could be reported even though they were not alone in the act. In this way, students could target singular students without bringing a whole group into being reported.
The photo above quotes an email that is sent to Meredith students when they are found to have violated COVID-19 guidelines.
One student, who is a woman of color, shared her story of what happened in her scenario. She commented, “I wanted to do something for my birthday with a small group of friends that I know get tested and monitored regularly. I wanted us to be outside to minimize the risk of us getting COVID. The reason I thought doing something outside was fine was because I saw that other students, who are white, were going out with their friends.” The Herald’s student source was following state regulations for the virus. From seeing what had been posted, she could only assume that it would be acceptable for her to do the same. She continued, “The following day, I was told by one of the heads of my department that I disrespected and broke the rules of that department and that I would face repercussions for going out.” This only led to more confusion. The student source later explained, “This confused me because there were white students, some who are supposed to be leaders, that were not only going out but were posting pictures of themselves in bars without masks, [at] bonfires with dozens of people and house parties. There were no repercussions for them.” This incident was a while ago, but things have not changed. People are still posting pictures and not receiving the punishment that students of color are getting, which has only created a fearful environment. The Herald’s student source finished her comment by adding, “I’m worried about coming forward to speak to someone about this because I feel I will get shut down immediately.” Unity and sisterhood are often said to be at the forefront of Meredith students’ values; however, some people’s actions do not reflect these values according to other students. If someone does something wrong and there is proof, it stands to reason that there should be accountability and action should be taken against all parties involved. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Another student commented on her experience with the other end of the protocol system spectrum. She said, “I haven’t personally been discriminated against in regards to COVID-19 targeting on campus. I do have a number of friends who have faced discrimination on campus in regards to COVID-19 protocols and decisions.” She went on to explain the biggest difference between her situation and the situations of students of color. “They have been reported for not wearing masks and doing more unsafe things more often than my white friends who have done the same thing,” she said.
The Herald also reached out to Dean of Students Ann Gleason for comment. She emphasized that “Meredith College’s Community Standards, which were developed by the Incident Response Team, are meant to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our campus community. Meredith College expects everyone who visits campus for any reason, including students, to adhere to these standards.” Gleason later stated, “Community members are able to report suspected violations of Community Standards to the Office of the Dean of Students, but these reports do not include demographic information. A review of reports received thus far does not show evidence that these reports are targeting students of color.”
The COVID-19 guidelines at Meredith need to be applied equally. If a photograph of a group is reported, one person should not be singled out. It looks especially odd when that student in the group is a person of color. While reporting should still be in place in order to ensure adherence to the Community Standards, the stories shared here demonstrate the need for a way for Meredith College administration to combat the possibility of discrimination-based COVID-19 reporting. Even though the reports received may not seem to have bad intentions, it is difficult to truly know what individuals are thinking. The people reported also deserve a chance to explain their actions. Taking additional steps to ensure fairness in reporting may be complicated, but no one should be using the system as a way to discriminate.
A final message from Dean Gleason: “Students should report suspected violations truthfully and with the purpose of improving adherence to the campus requirements and standards. If students have questions or concerns about the Community Standards and the fairness of the reporting process, please contact me or a member of the Dean of Students team through the Dean of Students departmental email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
By Kaylee Haas, Staff Writer