Sunday, July 3, 2022

W&M student association calls dean’s COVID letter ‘disappointing,’ with ‘accusatory and threatening language’

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of W&M News)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of W&M News)

A letter penned by Marjorie Thomas, William & Mary’s dean of students was “disappointing” with “accusatory and threatening language.”

It made the situation worse as students and the administration already have a “heightened level of stress generated by the pandemic.”

Those were the assertions made by the W&M Graduate Student Association in a response the group emailed to Thomas, referring to the dean’s Aug. 21 letter to students announcing a COVID-19 Zero Tolerance Policy.

“Heaping blame and threats of punishment on students is unwarranted, and undermines the spirit of the phrase “Healthy Together,”  the student association wrote. “It was particularly disappointing, that having taken much care as a graduate community to socially distance and act responsibly this summer, often at great expense to our research, you chose to send us an email such as this.”

So here’s the back story:

W&M have reopened last month with students moving in through Labor Day weekend.

Students were expected to stick to the university’s honor code by testing themselves for the coronavirus with their results available prior to their arrival on campus. They also are expected to honor the university’s recent pact with the Williamsburg City Council: Healthy Together: A Community Commitment, a resolution to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

As students started to arrive on-campus, Thomas penned the letter.

“As we head into the weekend, I write to those of you who continue to act in selfish ways that put our in-person semester at risk,” Thomas wrote. “While many students are complying with the rules and regulations set forth in our Healthy Together Community Commitment, too many are not.”

Thomas banned groups of more than 10 people and announced the university would partner with the Williamsburg Police Department to conduct “party patrols” to make sure students were wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

You read that right — party patrols.

Those who do not wear a mask, social distance or attend “large gatherings that violate the Healthy Together Commitment” would have to leave from campus for the fall semester and attend university remotely or “potentially face suspension.”

“Do not be the person who causes us to shut down this semester,” Thomas wrote. “Do not be the reason that valued W&M employees are furloughed or lose their jobs. “

“Do not test the resolve of this university to take swift action to prioritize the health and well-being of our campus and the Williamsburg community,” Thomas added.

William & Mary trusted its students would be responsible for testing themselves at-home in what the university calls the “honor code.”

Which brings up this question: Why does the university not trust its students to wear masks and social distance and is conducing party patrol with the police department?

“For those students choosing to attend William & Mary in person this fall, we have been clear about the guidelines and expectations for individual conduct, as outlined in our Healthy Together Community Commitment,” Suzanne Clavet, spokeswoman for the university wrote in an email. “Many members of our community are following these requirements. But, like other aspects of our student code of conduct, these expectations will be enforced and when there are violations to those policies there will be consequences.”

So the student association responded.

“Heaping blame and threats of punishment on students is unwarranted, and undermines the spirit of the phrase “Health Together,”  the student association wrote. “It was particularly disappointing, that having taken much care as a graduate community to socially distance and act responsibly this summer, often at great expense to our research, you chose to send us an email such as this.”

While the association supported the university’s call for care and caution during the pandemic, it appears they felt the letter was making the situation worse and was concerned about the “divisive rhetoric that pits students against university employees.”

The association reaffirmed its commitment to the W&M Workers Union and noted any action taken against the employees by the administration “cannot and should not be blamed on students.”

“Lastly, the intensification of police activity, in the form of “Party Patrols,” both on and off campus, is alarming, especially given recent murders of Black Americans by the police,” the association noted. “This policy has the potential to erode trust and create a hostile community environment, not only at William & Mary, but in the larger Williamsburg community.”

“We encourage you to consider alternative measures to maintain campus health and safety, and to do so with the utmost transparency and input from students, including graduate students! and Williamsburg community members,” the association wrote.

WYDaily reached out to the student association for further comment about the letter sent to Thomas, but they declined.

W&M Workers Union response

As of Wednesday, fewer than 10 employees on campus have tested positive for the virus, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“We’re obviously glad it’s a low number but 10 is too many,” said Frances Bell, graduate worker in the university’s history department and member of the W&M Workers Union.

Bell said the union wants paid time off and paid sick leave for workers.

In response to the student association’s letter, she said the union was grateful for the association’s response.

She said she thought the dean’s letter was “completely inappropriate,” noting the recent uprisings against police brutality.

“To explicitly use police as a way to patrol students…to try and enforce these rules is very unwelcome at this time,” she said.

Even if students are not partying, they are still living together and taking classes on campus, she added. “The university wasn’t supposed to reopen campus — they shouldn’t have reopened campus.”

Read the letter from the student association here.

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Julia Marsiglianohttp://wydaily.com
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to julia@localvoicemedia.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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