Graphic by Ashley Mowreader
No drinking in the dorms. No smoking on campus. No parking in the faculty lot. Most of Pepperdine’s rules are clear and understandable for students, but COVID-19 regulations have students confused on the disciplinary action they may face for breaking protocol.
The Pepperdine Student Code of Conduct and subsequent COVID-19 policies apply to students living on campus, in the Malibu area, at home or elsewhere for fall 2020 despite remote instruction. The Office of Community Standards continues to receive and act upon reports it receives during fall 2020, said Sharon Beard, associate dean of students and head of the Office of Community Standards.
“In all things, we want you to follow local, state and federal laws on and off campus,” Beard said. “So if it’s brought to our attention that a student is in violation of one of those, then we do have the ability to follow up with students about that.”
Social groups and Athletics also created new policies and disciplinary procedures for students not adhering to COVID-19 ordinances. Most students, however, remain unaware of the disciplinary action they could be facing or Pepperdine’s role in enforcing COVID-19 ordinances.
COVID-19 Policies and Disciplinary Action
The Student Code of Conduct outlines expectations for students not on campus in Section 3, describing students’ responsibility to behave in a way that honors themselves, Pepperdine and the community.
“Although the University is not responsible or liable for student off-campus events or behavior, it does reserve the right to take disciplinary action in response to behavior off campus that violates University expectations and policies or adversely affects the University community and/or the pursuit of its objectives,” according to the Code of Conduct.
The Code of Conduct also outlines students’ responsibility for their behavior throughout their time at Pepperdine, from admission to graduation, throughout the academic year and during periods between actual enrollment and even post-graduation.
Typically, this relates to off-campus activity in the Malibu area, but due to the nature of remote instruction for fall 2020, Community Standards uses this clause to extend jurisdiction to all students, regardless of physical location.
To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the University and University organizations are taking new measures to discourage social gatherings.
Students received two emails from Pepperdine notifying them of the new COVID-19 related policies for fall 2020. Dean of Students Mark Davis sent an email Aug. 21 introducing the new COVID-19 Interim Protocols. The protocols outline expectations for community members regarding on-campus social distancing and face-covering policy, and detail the extension of telecommuting for employees and travel guidelines.
Connie Horton, vice President for Student Affairs, sent the second email to Seaver College non-residential students Aug. 27, reminding students of Pepperdine’s social distancing policy and communicating the first warning from the University of disciplinary action.
“Because following these directives is so important, if the University becomes aware of policy violations, students will be documented accordingly and incident reports will be sent to the Office of Community Standards for adjudication,” Horton wrote in the email.
The COVID-19 Interim Protocols do not mention students or community members off campus and more directly apply to on-campus living and working; however, these protocols are a piece of the foundation for which Community Standards bases its jurisdiction in disciplinary action for students regarding COVID-19, Beard said.
Pepperdine’s protocols do not state the types of disciplinary action students could face for failing to follow social distancing or mask-wearing regulations. Most of the reported cases have received no consequence or a letter reminding students to follow local ordinances, Beard said.
“With any report, I try to look at how much did the student know that this was a policy,” Beard said. “And given that this is a new policy, I have really tried to give students the benefit of the doubt in that they’re not intentionally trying to go against the Code of Conduct.”
Universities holding in-person classes have also implemented disciplinary measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. West Virginia University suspended 47 students for attending parties and other large gatherings; University of Colorado Boulder banned all 18-to-22-year-olds from gathering in any size, indoor or outdoor; and Pennsylvania State University suspended its chapter of fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha for hosting a party. Some of these Universities employ campus security, resident advisers and other staff to enforce new COVID-19 sanctions, but many respond to tips and reports from other community members.
Student Responsibility to the Code
An anonymous Graphic survey of 35 students found 41% of students disagree with Pepperdine holding students to the Code of Conduct during remote instruction, but 24% said they believe only students living in the Malibu area should be subject to the code.
“Overall, I agree that people should be punished for reckless behavior right now,” an anonymous student survey respondent wrote. “However, I’m not sure how I feel about Pepperdine doing the enforcing. It seems reasonable in the Malibu area, but I don’t think anywhere else.”
The respondent made a comparison to Pepperdine’s jurisdiction during summer break, when students are technically under the Code of Conduct but Pepperdine does not inflict disciplinary action on students.
Other students remain concerned about the possibility of an in-person spring semester if students living near Malibu spread COVID-19 or make reckless decisions in gathering.
“For those of us at home, it is frustrating that other people’s behavior is potentially keeping us here and could hurt spring semester on-campus planning,” another anonymous respondent wrote.
The Office of Community Standards does not actively seek to punish students, Beard said, but rather relies on tips and reports from the community. The majority of reports for fall 2020 have come from neighbors in the Malibu area, peers witnessing events in person or on social media or anonymously, Beard said.
All fall 2020 reports Community Standards received — either from peers, neighbors or anonymous sources — pertain to students living near Malibu, Beard said.
Senior Scottie Sandlin said she understands why some people may report their peers’ social media posts over safety concerns or due to other breaches of the Student Code of Conduct.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily important for us to tattle on one another,” Sandlin said. “I think Pepperdine has prepared us for times like this. They have given us the tools and mindset to lead and to go through challenges in a respectful way and to be able to discern the right thing to do. It’s just a matter of if students want to take that standpoint.”
Sandlin said she’s taken a step back from social media recently because she doesn’t want to compare her situation to what her peers share online. Choosing to view people’s posts with understanding is key, Sandlin said, because it’s impossible to know what someone is going through during the pandemic.
“I don’t want to be comparing, and then I also don’t want to be judging anyone else for what they think is right,” Sandlin said. “I just think that it’s a difficult time for everyone, and it’s important to meet people with compassion and grace rather than judgment.”
Gatherings, Events and Parties, Oh My!
The Office of Community Standards received 56 reports of COVID-19 related misconduct since Sept. 14; however, only 13 of those reports received disciplinary action. Reports can include multiple students or student groups, Beard said, and Standards only filed one report for all involved students.
While the Office of Community Standards believes enforcing COVID-19 related breaches of the Code of Conduct is important, the University’s focus of disciplinary action has been more directed at parties, Beard said.
“A serious violation would be as someone who is hosting a large house party off campus because it is such a risky choice to host an event where [COVID-19] could be spread so easily,” Beard said.
The Student Code of Conduct outlines disciplinary actions students may face for drinking alcohol or engaging in substance use off campus during fall 2020.
Intoxication on or off campus can result in probation and suspension on the first and second offense, respectively. Underage drinking and the possession of a fake ID can result in probation. The possession or presence of any amount of a controlled substance, including marijuana, is prohibited on or off campus and may result in suspension. Any student involved in the sale or distribution of drugs may be dismissed immediately.
Hosting or in any way assisting or promoting a gathering off campus that includes drunkenness, underage drinking or drug use may result in suspension or dismissal. Responsibility of the party belongs to both party hosts and those living at the location where a party is held, regardless of their role in the event.
Pepperdine added additional language to the Seaver College Standards of Conduct webpage to clarify its policy regarding off-campus social gatherings during COVID-19. Students on or off campus may face disciplinary action for organizing or attending any kind of gathering where students do not follow Pepperdine COVID-19 policies, state or local health regulations, including keeping social distance and wearing a face covering, according to the website.
Some students, however, feel Pepperdine is overstepping bounds with enforcing disciplinary action during fall 2020.
“To expect students not to gather with more than a couple of people for months on end is unrealistic and ridiculous,” an anonymous respondent wrote.
The Graphic’s survey found 81% of students agree or strongly agree with the statement, “Students moved back to Malibu to socialize; disciplinary action won’t stop gatherings.”
Interfraternity Council Regulations
Interfraternity Council notified active members of its new COVID-19 Gathering Memorandum to reduce gatherings of Pepperdine fraternity members.
“It has come to our attention that many of our IFC members who are living near campus have still been having gatherings after several messages from Student Activities and Pepperdine explicitly prohibiting them,” wrote Interfraternity Council President Warren Moore Jr., in a Sept. 24 email.
In the memorandum, IFC implemented sanctions for fraternities that host any sized gathering, with a $100 fine for a gathering up to 10 people, $250 fine for a gathering up to 20 people and an additional $25 per person after 20 people. After one offense, a fraternity will face social probation for one semester once in-person classes have resumed; after two violations, chapters will face IFC and possibly University probation.
Student Activities defines an off-campus event as any gathering with four or more members from the same chapter. The memorandum specifically discourages “having gatherings,” suggesting that fraternity members attending events may not face the same fines as those hosting events. No distinction was made between outdoor recreation in a large group and a party.
“I know myself and many of you wish we could still have our events and gatherings in person; however, in order to go back to campus in the spring semester, we must be smart and follow the guidelines provided by the University and the state,” Moore wrote in the email.
Athletics also issued new policies and procedures for student-athletes returning to Malibu to train and hopefully compete later in the academic year.
The Pepperdine Athletics Return to Campus Protocol includes two forms student-athletes must sign: the COVID-19 acknowledgement form, which confirms their understanding of the risks and testing procedures, and an Agreement to Follow Novel Coronavirus Health Standards form, in which student-athletes agree to follow local laws and Pepperdine Athletics’ COVID-19 policy.
In the agreement, student-athletes consent to follow physical and social distancing measures both on and off campus, including maintaining six feet of distance from others, avoiding gathering in groups and crowded places and wearing a face covering.
On Sept. 16, the Swim and Dive team received a reminder via GroupMe message from Swim Coach Ellie Monobe and the Athletic Department to follow Athletics COVID-19 policies. Monobe wrote the Athletic Department is aware of different student-athlete groups participating in activities that violate state and county ordinances, such as playing beach volleyball and pickup basketball games. In addition, some student-athletes hosted a large gathering at an off-campus residence that violated orders regarding size, physical distancing and mask wearing, Monobe wrote.
“Our department wants to make clear that these violations could warrant sanctions that could include suspension and loss of privileges to campus access and on-campus housing,” Monobe wrote. “More important, we could lose all the progress we have made. Please, make the right choices and do not ruin the progress that our department and staff have worked so hard for.”
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