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Many college students adhere to COVID rules, but some are 'reckless' and 'irresponsible'
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Many college students adhere to COVID rules, but some are 'reckless' and 'irresponsible'

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UNL COVID-19, 9.18

University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore Rose Kaup wears a mask as she uses a computer outside the Nebraska Union in September.

OMAHA — A recent social media video depicting swarms of giddy, maskless young adults is the stuff of despair for college administrators trying to manage the struggle with the coronavirus.

People shown in the Nov. 14 video, which was shared on Twitter, appeared to be thickly clustered in party mode before the Huskers’ game against Penn State. They had gathered in at least two areas — a backyard teeming with people and the Railyard district of Lincoln.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln issued a statement Monday calling the actions in the video “reckless, irresponsible and a danger to public health.” The statement said that if UNL students are identified in the video, “they will face disciplinary measures” and should “not attend class in person this week” so they don’t risk spreading the virus.

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UNL also sent a message to the videographer. It said: “These actions risk our on-campus learning environment and it is unacceptable. Please report by emailing: covid19@unl.edu.”

As of Tuesday, the Twitter link to the video said “this account limits who can view their Tweets.” But the video already had prompted a contentious and sometimes profane debate on social media over the dangers of COVID-19, how people should behave during the pandemic and whether anyone should regulate that behavior.

Colleges throughout the nation and region have taken vastly different approaches this fall to the discipline of students ignoring coronavirus rules.

After students returned to college campuses this semester, some universities invoked punishment to send a message that they were serious about their COVID-19 rules. Others took a gentler approach by “coaching” and “educating” students who didn’t heed demands initially.

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With his mask in place and a backpack slung over his shoulders, freshman Ethan Dunn walked through the Nebraska Union last week and prepared to study.

Signs dotted the student union on City Campus — “Face Covering Required,” “PLEASE WEAR A MASK IN THIS AREA,” “Stop the spread of germs.”

“The people I’m friends with are OK with all the precautions,” said Dunn, a political science major from Omaha. 

Ethan

Ethan Dunn at the Nebraska Union on UNL’s City Campus, next to a Herbie Husker-themed wear-your-mask sign.

Laurie Bellows, vice chancellor for student affairs at UNL, said last week that she prefers the “nudge, nudge and nag approach” with students over bringing down the hammer on violators. Bellows said UNL students had generally done a good job of complying with regulations.

“We have not seen or experienced any pushback. We might get a few eye rolls,” Bellows said. “Our students have done really well.”

One student sitting at a Nebraska Union table last week thought a reporter was a monitor and instantly apologized, putting on his mask.

Ryan Lahne, director of UNL’s Nebraska Unions, said staffers have been asked to monitor mask-wearing and distancing. They also occasionally reward excellent mask compliance with $5 Starbucks gift cards, Lahne said through a spokeswoman.

Bellows said in a written statement Tuesday that many students display responsible behavior. “But there are some students who threaten our community by violating our clearly stated expectations, and I find this very disappointing.” Such students will be held accountable, she said.

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A UNL spokeswoman said Tuesday that “a full investigation” into the events videoed Nov. 14 is being conducted. If UNL students are identified, she said, they will face discipline.

At UNL, as of early this month, 26 students faced charges of violating campus COVID-19 regulations and none were suspended or expelled. Seven Greek chapters at UNL also faced temporary suspensions for coronavirus violations at the start of the semester. Six chapters received undisclosed sanctions and all were reinstated within a month, UNL said.

Bellows said UNL wants to use education, encouragement and enforcement, in that order, to gain compliance. She said she goes through the Nebraska Union two or three times a week. Most students wear masks, she said, and those who don’t respond well to a gesture or reminder to comply.

“I’ve seen students step up,” she said.

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Regionally, students evidently heeded rules or received multiple chances to correct behavior. Wayne, Peru and Chadron State Colleges “did not need to discipline any students” because those students “have taken the appropriate steps,” a spokeswoman for the state college system said.

Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln said its number of violations has been “so low that the privacy/confidentiality of the individuals involved would easily be breached if we shared any information.”

The University of Nebraska at Omaha said there had been “coaching opportunities and conversations with students as needed, but nothing to the level of sanctions or discipline.”

At the University of Nebraska at Kearney, a spokesman said there had been “basic conversations with a few who resisted, but all eventually came around and agreed to abide by our mask policy.”

A UNL freshman on Nov. 14 said that on her way to the Nebraska Union that morning, she encountered “a mosh pit” of students, some maskless, evidently gathered to follow the Husker game.

“It’s reckless,” said the student, Alexis Reese of Omaha. The university has “some good regulations” with which to combat the coronavirus, Reese said. “They’re just not necessarily enforced."

Photos: Lincoln during the pandemic

 

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