After just one week of classes, Haverford moved from Level 1 of the Bi-Co Mitigation Plan to Level 2. The reason? Haverford students who breached social distancing guidelines during the first week of the semester—prompting an impassioned email titled “LAST NIGHT!” by Dean Bylander on September 12.
Under Phase 2, the guidelines outlined in the Mitigation Plan limited gatherings to a maximum of 10 people who are masked and six feet apart. Ultimately, the move proved short-lived: after one week, the college deemed student behavior as compliant with COVID safety protocols and returned to Level 1 on September 20.
Yet those on campus noted varying degrees of adherence to the new (and old) regulations during Level 2. Some students, like Julia Katowitz ’24, observed fewer gatherings: “I noticed that a lot of first-years tended to stay in and not go out during Level 2,” she said.
However, anecdotal evidence also suggests that there was a fraction of students who continued to gather. Emi Krishnamurthy ’24 was one of many who observed illicit gatherings during the weekend of Level 2. She recalled a friend on a sports team telling her that there were people from their team partying without masks on September 19, during Level 2.
Similarly, another student—who asked to remain anonymous—reported that they saw “a lot of student athletes outside the North Dorms partying. Some have been wearing masks but they were all really close this weekend [September 12] and last weekend [September 19]. I think it ranged from 10–20 people together outside.”
Despite these select groups, the majority of students on campus adhered to the Level 2 restrictions and minimized social interactions in fear of the consequences. Edna Creelman ’23 said that most of the people she knew (primarily sophomores and juniors) stayed in their hall and socialized in small groups.
Although the anecdotal evidence suggests that athletic teams are at the center of many illicit social gatherings, those interviewed cautioned against lumping all athletes together as rulebreakers. “When you see [student-athletes not social distancing or wearing masks], you attribute that to the whole team,” said Eric Dahlberg ’23, a lacrosse player.
Perhaps the motivation for these gatherings is not malice or irresponsbility, but instead a deeply felt need for connection. “[Level 2] was more like a slap on the wrist and more like ‘Be afraid’ than ‘Hey, let’s check in with the students and see why they are partying in the midst of a pandemic,’” said Dahlberg. He went on to say that the college often loses sight of the human aspect of college and that a lack of socialization contributes to higher stress levels for students.
Other students echoed this sentiment. “It’s hard to make connections over Zoom because it isn’t personal,” said Luke Sheppard ’24. And Luca Ponticello ’24 agreed, pointing out that the awkwardness of Zoom classes pushes people into silence.
These quotes speak to the general sentiment among those interviewed that the administration did not actively try to understand the motivations of those students who chose to gather, and instead of resolving the root of the problem, opted for what they deemed scare tactics and collective punishment.
Perhaps this disenchantment can help explain the increased levels of partying observed by students once the college returned to Level 1.
“Everyone was out Friday night and Saturday night [September 25 and 26]. People were wearing masks but I didn’t see much social distancing,” said one party-attending student, who asked to remain anonymous. Another student voiced a similar concern, saying that transitioning to Level 2 felt pointless because people continued to party. However, they said it’s understandable because socializing during the week is impossible.
Other students, particularly upperclassmen, expressed concern over the events that led to Level 2. “I think Haverford students are smart enough to understand there are inherent risks of partying,” opined Will Chartener ’22. He said he understood why people choose to party, noting that lockdowns had left few opportunities for social interaction over the past six months, but hoped that students would realize the possibility of unintended consequences during a pandemic.
“The main thing that’s keeping me from really pushing the envelope is the safety of my fellow students who might not have a place to go home to, or might be at risk from the virus,” he said.
Ultimately, these observations indicate that student behavior was not significantly altered by the one-week transition to Level 2 and that the college’s response was ineffective: students continue to party. Only time will tell what future weekends will look like.