If you’re a student in the Georgetown area, here’s what you need to know about university COVID-19 policies

September 12, 2020

Illustration by Deborah Han

With some students returning to campus for the fall semester and many more living in student groups in nearby neighborhoods, Georgetown has implemented new policies to protect the local student body from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with students dispersed across the Georgetown area and evolving university policies, it can be difficult for students to understand behavioral expectations.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Students living on Georgetown’s campus and in the neighborhoods of Georgetown, Burleith, and Foxhall must follow a series of guidelines meant to enforce community health and safety. These guidelines are supplemental to Georgetown’s Code of Student Conduct, and students who violate them will face punishment under the Code.

The guidelines require students to wear face coverings in public, maintain six feet of physical distance from those not in their household, refrain from gathering in groups of greater than 10, and adhere to D.C. public health requirements. Students must also follow new COVID-19 testing guidelines announced by Provost Robert Groves on Aug. 28. On-campus students must be tested twice per week and students living in the neighborhoods must be tested once per week.

The Office of Student Conduct (OSC) released a set of sanctions for students who fail to wear a mask or maintain six feet of social distancing. For the first violation, students will receive one year of Disciplinary Probation I, be asked to complete an “educational project,” and deans and parents will be notified. Disciplinary Probation I is a warning statement indicating a student may receive suspension for further misconduct. 

The second violation warrants a minimum punishment of one year of Disciplinary Probation II, possible suspension, and dean and parental notification. The third violation warrants suspension from the university for one year and possible dismissal. Disciplinary Probation II is an elevated warning, stating a student must adhere to specific conditions set by the OSC to remain at Georgetown without being suspended. Disciplinary suspension requires complete separation from the university, including prohibition from participating in university activities or accessing campus facilities.

Hosting or attending a gathering of more than 10 people or failing to adhere to testing, quarantine, and isolation policies set by the university and D.C. can result in stricter punishments. The first violation results in a minimum of Disciplinary Probation II for one year and possible suspension or dismissal, while the second and third violations both result in minimum punishments of disciplinary suspension and possible dismissal.

Notably, if an incident occurs at a student’s residence, all members of the residence may receive punishment.

Students on campus and in the neighborhood also must adhere to the Georgetown University Community Compact, which they were required to sign as part of their Fall 2020 Affirmation statement, a required form that asked all students, faculty, and staff where they planned to live for the semester. The Community Compact outlines various safety measures students on campus or in the Georgetown area must follow in addition to the Code of Student Conduct. These include a requirement for students to use a mobile application called One Medical to report their daily symptoms.

While students were asked to sign the compact, some did not, a move which may result in harsher sanctions from the OSC, according to Michael Miller (SFS ’22), director of Georgetown’s Student Advocacy Office (SAO). The SAO is a student-run organization that assists students accused of violating the student code of conduct in navigating through the disciplinary process.

According to Miller, failure to sign the compact is treated as an independent violation of the Student Code of Conduct and can result in harsher OSC student punishments.

Many students chose not to sign compacts due to a misperception that by admitting to living in the nearby neighborhoods, they would be sacrificing their ability to live off-campus their senior year, according to Miller. Georgetown has a policy that students must live in on-campus housing for three years, after which many seniors choose to live off-campus. 

Initial early emails regarding university housing warned students signing a lease their freshman, sophomore, or junior year might exempt them from future off-campus housing.

“Because they [Georgetown] disincentivized it [living in nearby neighborhoods], and added a sanction to it, while students had already signed leases for this year, students were heavily discouraged from actually signing that community compact,” Miller said.

While later emails instead emphasized students living off-campus were no longer required to meet the housing requirements, Miller explained many still believed they could be penalized for living off-campus.

“They didn’t say that very clearly, so a lot of students who are living off-campus still have that perception that they shouldn’t sign the community compact, because then their senior-year housing will be taken away from them,” he said.

In addition to the compact, the OSC has changed several other aspects of the disciplinary process surrounding COVID-19 violations. Resolving a code of conduct incident typically takes between two and three weeks. The new expedited process for COVID-19-related incidents, however, takes only about four business days between the time at which a student receives a conduct notice and the time at which the student is alerted of their sanctions.

The OSC also changed the appeals process for COVID-19 violations. In most cases, a student can appeal the punishment handed down by the OSC, and the sanctions will not go into effect until after the appeals process ends. However, the new guidelines hold that the only COVID-19-related sanctions a student can appeal are suspension or dismissal and sanctions will go into effect immediately even if appealed.

According to Miller, the COVID-19 sanctions are “much more severe” than consequences for other offenses. For instance, a first offense for hosting a gathering of more than 10 people results in the same punishment as possessing a firearm on campus. In comparison to other semesters, Miller reported that SAO has received a higher number of cases.

Alice Kukapa (SFS ’23), a student living on campus this fall believes the combination of sanctions and community accountability have motivated people to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

“There’s not mandatory reporting where they’re making us police other students, but it is kind of like a ‘hold each other accountable’ type of thing where it’s teamwork,” she said. “There’s not really staff reporting. There’s no one going to be standing outside my door to see if I’m wearing a mask or not.”

Kukapa said students are resolving disputes without calling campus staff. For instance, she noted students living on-campus and in the neighborhoods have a group message on the social media platform, GroupMe, where they post general warnings before trying to bring professional staff into their incidents.

“You can hear music [from a residence], but you may not know whether everyone there is actually social distancing. You may just assume that they may not be,” she said. “There’s been more of a push to just go to people’s doors personally and be like ‘hey, you’re being loud’ as a first warning.”

To help encourage students to report each other for violations, the university shared a link Sept. 8 to a Google Form where students, faculty, and staff can anonymously report violations of university COVID-19 policy. Reporters’ anonymity would be protected under Georgetown’s whistle-blower protection policy.

Kukapa pointed to the low numbers of COVID-19 cases on campus as evidence students have generally been following safety guidelines. As of Sept. 7, there have been 10 total positive COVID-19 cases from students, faculty, and staff on the main and medical campuses.

Colby Moss (COL ‘24), another student living on campus, also reported a high level of compliance with university policies.

“The sanctions are very effective for people on campus and not many break policy when at the university,” he said. “Mostly every student is quarantining and staying in their rooms.”

Groves’ email on Sept. 8 also announced a new “Public Health Ambassador” program for Georgetown’s main, medical, and law campuses, which encourages university employees to remind students to wear masks and maintain physical distancing guidelines.

We have launched a public health campaign, ‘Every Hoya, Everywhere’ to encourage all members of our community to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to the Voice. “Our first approach is to educate members of our community who do not comply with community standards.”

For students who are implicated in Georgetown’s disciplinary process for COVID-19 safety violations, Miller recommended best practices.

If GUPD or members of the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP) come to your door to investigate a noise complaint, it is important to stay put. “If people leave when SNAP shows up, that means SNAP can’t verify that you had under ten people at your gathering,” he said.

Miller also emphasized the importance of keeping your GoCard with you at all times. Even though it seems unimportant for off-campus students to carry their GoCards, Miller says it is a requirement for all Georgetown students in the neighborhoods. If you do not have a GoCard, show a driver’s license, he said.

Finally, the SAO is a potential resource for students accused of violating the code of conduct. “Not every student has a clear understanding of what this adjudication system looks like until they’re in trouble,” Miller said. “But our officers are trained on it, so we’re happy to help anyone who does get in trouble with it.”

Ethan Greer
Ethan is an assistant news editor for the Voice and a sophomore in the College. In his free time he enjoys eating copious amounts of Chipotle.

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