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‘We don’t need to be the epicenter of a spread’: Community Concerned About Loyola Students Breaking COVID-19 Guidelines

Zack Miller | The PhoenixA sign on Loyola's Lake Shore Campus displaying some of the guidelines put in place by the university to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

First-year Lia Thibault moved into a Loyola residence hall Jan. 17 and just a few days later saw other first-years flouting COVID-19 guidelines and breaking the rules of their mandatory quarantines to meet up with groups of 15 or 20 people before or after their COVID-19 tests.

“My brother’s high risk so I take it really seriously,” said Thibault, who’s majoring in biology and from Minneapolis. “He’s 12 and was almost hospitalized just for the common cold. It’s concerning to me because we don’t need to be the epicenter of a spread right now.”

When just under 1,100 first-years arrived on campus Jan. 13 through Jan. 27, they were required to quarantine in their dorm rooms for two weeks and were only allowed to leave for testing or to pick up meals, The Phoenix reported.

Their quarantine period ended Jan. 31, but students are still required to follow multiple guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, including restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather in residence hall rooms. Students are also required to wear masks in common spaces and remain distanced, The Phoenix reported.

But the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR), which is responsible for enforcing these rules, has already received 73 reported cases of individuals breaking COVID-19 guidelines in various ways across Loyola’s campuses and surrounding neighborhoods between Jan. 1 and Feb. 5, according to OSCCR Director Stacey Jaksa.

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago Office of Student Conflict Resolution director Stacey Jaksa oversees Loyola’s student disciplinary processes.

Jaksa said some of these cases are still going through OSCCR’s disciplinary process, meaning some individuals may ultimately be found “not responsible” for breaking COVID-19 guidelines. 

Students who are caught breaking COVID-19 guidelines are treated the same way as students who are caught breaking other campus rules, such as underage drinking in a residence hall or violating guest policies, Jaksa said. 

Consequences for students who break COVID-19 rules depend on the situation, Jaksa said. Loyola doesn’t have set standards about how many times a student may be found responsible for breaking the rules before facing suspension or expulsion — instead, all outcomes are decided on a case-by-case basis, Jaksa said.  

When OSCCR receives a report of a student breaking a rule, the office does a preliminary investigation to see if the report is credible, according to Jaksa. If so, the student is contacted and a hearing is scheduled where they can share their perspective on the situation. If the university finds it probable the student failed to comply with the rule in question after the hearing, the student is assigned “outcomes” that can range from writing a reflection to being expelled, Jaksa said. 

In the case of COVID-19 violations, Jaksa said the university tries to combine disciplinary outcomes, such as warnings or suspensions, with educational outcomes including attending virtual workshops or completing reflection projects such as an essay in which they write about what they’ve learned. 

“We’re hoping someone could have a learning moment.”

OSCCR Director Stacey Jaksa

The consequences, which OSCCR calls outcomes, depend on the severity and number of violations a student is found responsible for, according to Jaska. For example, a student who’s caught wearing a mask improperly might receive a warning, while a student who’s found responsible for hosting a large gathering in a dorm room and drinking while underage would receive a more serious consequence, Jaksa said. 

A resident assistant (RA) in a first-year residence hall, who The Phoenix isn’t naming to protect their job, said they had to break up a group of seven or eight maskless people gathered in the lounge that wasn’t on her floor during the mandatory quarantine. They said they warned the students of the rules and asked them to go back to their rooms. They didn’t see them in the lounge again that night.

The RA said they haven’t had to report anyone to OSCCR for breaking COVID-19 guidelines yet. But they and other RAs have received a few messages from first-years saying they felt unsafe due to others not practicing social distancing, so the RA often reminds the residents of the rules.  

“Those incidents are definitely a minority,” the RA said. “My floor has been perfect. I know a lot of the other RAs haven’t had issues, so it’s just like these isolated incidents that definitely make people worry but from what I’ve seen, everyone has been really careful.”

When Thibault saw a photo in a first-year group chat of about 20 students hanging out during the quarantine period, she decided to report it to OSCCR. Thibault used a reporting system through its website, but students can report incidents to their RA or by calling 773-508-MASK.

“It can be scary to report, but we hope you will so we can address these issues across the university,” Jaksa said. 

Not only do Loyola students have concerns about the spread of COVID-19, but members of the surrounding community said they feel uneasy about Loyola’s decision to allow students back on campus.

A Rogers Park resident — who lives on Ridge Avenue in a building with mostly families but also some Loyola students — said she noticed the students frequently hosting gatherings of five or more people and not social distancing in common areas of the apartment building.  

“It’s frustrating to see people working long hours and taking precautions for months, while students move in for the semester and refuse to follow the minimum precautions.”

A Rogers Park resident

She also said she’s changed her routine to avoid being in areas of Rogers Park that students frequent. 

“There’s a visible difference between groups of Loyola students who are often in groups, not wearing masks, and areas where there’s less Loyola foot traffic,” the Rogers Park resident said. 

In anticipation of concerns from Rogers Park residents, Loyola held an hour-long community webinar Jan. 27 to address the university’s decision to increase on-campus learning and the policies in place to protect students and the community from COVID-19.

Despite the webinar, some Rogers Park residents are still doubtful of Loyola’s plan. 

Jennifer Gammage, a Rogers Park resident for five and a half years and a Ph.D. student, said she doesn’t believe that the university’s plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 will be successful. 

“I absolutely do not think the university will be able to enforce their policies or monitor student activities sufficiently, whether that be monitoring the number of students using elevators or the social activities of students in university housing,” Gammage said.

Sasha Shapsis contributed to the reporting of this article. 

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