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Enforcement and education: How Duke is implementing safety regulations during a pandemic



As the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University transition online after COVID-19 clusters and rising cases, Duke is using both employees and students to encourage safe behavior on and off campus.

UNC announced Monday that undergraduate classes would go online starting Wednesday. The decision came after 130 students tested positive for COVID-19 between Aug. 10 and 16 and the school identified four coronavirus clusters among students. The school had previously kicked three students off campus for failing to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

North Carolina State University made the same call Thursday, moving to online classes starting Aug. 24 after three COVID-19 clusters appeared in two days.

In order to avoid a similar outcome at Duke, responsibility for ensuring that community members behave safely is spread out among different parts of the Duke administration, administrators involved in developing enforcement protocols told The Chronicle. Undergraduates are covered by Student Affairs, graduate students by the student affairs offices in each school, staff by Human Resources and faculty by the deans of individual schools. 

Although students are expected to adhere to usual student conduct policies as well, the core of Duke’s COVID-19 guidelines are in the form of the Duke Compact, an agreement that all members of the Duke community had to sign before returning to campus. 

The Compact laid out expectations for students, faculty and staff. Although there were no formal punishments announced at the time for failing to follow the Compact, "flagrant or repeated disregard for the principle" would have consequences, Leigh Goller, Duke’s chief audit, risk and compliance officer, said in a news release when the Compact was released.

With classes now underway, those consequences are here.

In a Tuesday email to undergraduates, Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs, and Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, wrote that two dozen students have been referred for "formal educational interventions and training," after the Office of Student Conduct received more than 100 reports of COVID-19 guideline violations.

Seven more serious cases that involve "more flagrant misconduct" by both individuals and groups were referred to OSC. Although OSC will not release detailed information about those cases, McMahon and Bennett wrote that the students and organizations could face probation, suspension or expulsion from Duke.

The seven cases involved student groups and individuals who were warned multiple times for unsafe behavior, McMahon told The Chronicle. 

Consequences may include “removal of recognition, suspension of activities while we investigate, individuals or leaders in the organization taking responsibility if other people don't step up and take responsibility, or some combination of those things,” McMahon said. 

Although the most serious violations go through OSC, most cases are either cleared up on the spot by fixing a mask or stepping six feet back, among other quick fixes. Others may be referred to the Duke Student Wellness Center as a learning opportunity.

Violations are typically grouped into one of three levels, said Tom Szigethy, associate dean of students and director of the Student Wellness Center. 

The lowest-tier violations are accidental and usually cleared up on the spot, middle-tier violations are intentional but generally only impact the individual and the highest level would involve impacting the larger community, Szigethy said. 

Administrators from Duke Wellness, Housing and Residence Life and Student Affairs emphasized that Duke is focusing on educating students about COVID-19 rather than disciplining every violation of guidelines, including unintentional ones.

"Residence Life team members have worked to help students understand the safe practices needed, particularly facial masking and social distancing," Joe Gonzalez, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean for residential life, wrote in an email.

When low-level violations are referred to Student Wellness, the students are assigned to either individual meetings or—as numbers of referrals ramp up—group sessions, all conducted virtually thanks to the pandemic. 

Szigethy estimated that 15 students have been referred to Student Wellness in the past two weeks. 

“They're being held in small groups, half a dozen people or so, walking through how you get COVID, this is where the risk factors are, this is why we have the prevention elements that we do,” Szigethy said. 

After the sessions, students then try to come up with a “harm reduction plan” to find personal ways to fix any issues. For instance, a student who has had issues remembering to wear a mask when walking down the hallway to a bathroom would come up with a plan for reminders before leaving the room. 

“In a way, this is less punitive and more compassionate in regards to the conversation. So not to yell at somebody who's not wearing a mask but to offer them a mask and suggest that they wear it,” Szigethy said.

‘Compassionate’ enforcement

Although violations are being cleared up through Student Wellness and OSC, Duke is also focused on preventing violations and monitoring compliance with rules, using both students and staff to do so. 

Among these initiatives are a new Compliance Team, a Student Influencers team, a set of rules for student groups and community tools for reporting improper student behavior. 

Duke put in place the "Speak Up" reporting line, the option to email the Office of Student Conduct and an online form that was released with the Duke Compact. 

While students can use these resources to report concerns, they were also distributed to Duke's "neighborhood partners" to use if they had concerns about students' behavior not adhering to conduct policies, Goller wrote.

"The Speak-up Line is a way that Duke receives a variety of concerns for investigation or action—using it for the Duke Compact is an important way to give everyone in our community a way to voice concerns," Goller added.

The Speak Up hotline goes through the Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance, which then distributes reports to relevant parts of Duke. For undergraduate conduct, the reports go through Student Affairs—which includes the Office of Student Conduct.

While the hotline has seen some limited use on campus, McMahon said that it’s mostly been used by Duke neighbors to report concerning behavior. 

“The hotline's getting student calls, it's getting neighbor calls, landlords. And we're taking that and then following up with landlords and saying thanks for calling the hotline,” McMahon said. 

On campus, students are also helping monitor student behavior. 

The Student Influencers team is focused both on helping administrators get messages out about the importance of following COVID-19 guidelines and on collecting student feedback. The team is coordinated by David Pittman, senior director of student life. (Pittman did not respond to a request for an interview.)

Student groups are required to have compliance officers that ensure groups are considering COVID-19 risks. Student groups were also banned from hosting in-person events during the fall semester and all members of student groups were required to take a quiz on Duke’s COVID-19 prevention, according to a July 30 email to students from Student Development Coordinator Keith Norris.

In addition to these student efforts, a new Duke administration team is part of Duke’s efforts at “compassionate” rule enforcement. Along with discipline for breaking health guidelines, students are being rewarded for following them.

"Team members regularly engaged with students to thank those observed following these practices and re-direct those who were not," Gonzalez wrote.

However, not all of the thank-yous are that abstract. Some students have also received stickers and gift cards for smoothies and coffee from the Compliance Team for following the Compact, McMahon said. Student Affairs has also been working with Duke Student Government to identify ways to reward entire residential floors and buildings for “sustained adherence” to guidelines, McMahon wrote in an email to The Chronicle. 

Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president for student affairs and senior advisor, has been coordinating the new team, usually called the C-Team, that has been monitoring student behavior. 

"Members of the C-Team are on campus ​throughout the day and into evening, walking around East and West, to observe behaviors related to masking and social distancing and to give friendly reminders related to compliance in these areas," Wasiolek wrote in an email.

The C-Team draws members largely from Student Affairs and is working with HRL, Duke Dining and housekeeping services. Joining the team is largely voluntary, with Duke employees joining the team if they have time in their schedules to do so. 

The teams go out in pairs during set shifts, which currently go until midnight. At the moment, the C-Team is focused on undergraduates but is looking to eventually include graduate schools. While most of its focus is on encouraging good behavior on campus, members of the C-Team are also empowered to report students for violations. 

Along with the C-Team, HRL—including both administrators and students, including resident assistants—has also been involved in enforcement. 

"RAs have been provided various techniques involving both in person and contactless approaches.  These include support resources such as their fellow team members, the [residence coordinator] on call, the C-Team (as it develops) and [the Duke University Police Department]," Gonzalez wrote.

While the option for RAs to involve DUPD is there, administrators are increasing the number of alternatives. 

“The goal is not to have it be that the RA calls, the police come into the dorm. There's all kinds of reasons that that's not the effective way to keep people on the safer path,” McMahon said. 

The plan has largely been successful, she said. While DUPD has been called to the area behind Gilbert-Addoms and Blackwell dorms on East Campus, students dispersed by the time they arrived. 

The plan to reduce the responsibilities of RAs to regulate student behavior includes an increased presence of residence coordinators and graduate assistants, as well as the Compliance Team stepping in to clear up gatherings without that burden falling on RAs. 

Although the system is now falling into place to provide RAs with more options, this year’s unusual move-in posed some challenges in the past few weeks. The challenges included an overlap between RA training and first-year move-in, according to McMahon. 

“We had a period of time where the first-year class was very, very unstructured. For four, five, six days before orientation really got underway, depending on when people were here,” she said. 

Developing the Duke Compact

This system of enforcement, which incorporates students, staff and faculty, follows up on Duke-wide discussions that led to the Duke Compact. The Compact was drawn up by a group of administrators and faculty that included members from across the University, including the Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance, which chaired the committee, the Office of Public Affairs and Government Relations, the Office of Human Resources, President Vincent Price’s office and Athletics, Goller wrote. 

Faculty were represented both through the Academic Council and faculty representatives, which included Kerry Haynie, associate professor of political science and African and African American studies; Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy; and Anna Gassman-Pines, associate professor of public policy and psychology and neuroscience, according to McMahon.

There were no students on the Compact committee, but the team did consult with student groups, according  to Goller, including the 2021 Student Advisory Board, which is providing input on Duke’s plans for this academic year. 

The Graduate and Professional Student Council also participated in the process.

"We then consulted with a broad range of stakeholders—students, faculty, staff, campus leaders, behavioral specialists—which led to significant and critically important changes incorporated in the final document," Goller wrote in an email. 

Moving Forward

Although the current plan seeks to minimize the risk of having students on campus, avoiding the same fate as UNC and NC State also depends on Duke’s testing program. 

Testing at Duke itself a multi-stage process. All undergraduates living on campus or in Durham were tested for COVID-19 upon return to the area.

Duke has begun pool testing, testing groups of undergraduates weekly before eventually expanding to other community members later. Along with intake testing, this testing program may eventually allow for more on-campus activity. 

Of the 5,854 tests that Duke administered to students between Aug. 2 and Aug. 15, only 11 came back positive. Four of the 516 tests administered to staff and faculty were also positive. 

The students, faculty and staff who tested positive are currently isolated, and another 102 students who may have had contact with positive individuals were currently quarantining on and off-campus as of Wednesday. 

“Once we get baseline testing, surveillance testing, structure and pattern, are there ways that we could revisit some of what's possible outside?” McMahon said. That could include outdoor performances, she said. 

Those options will be re-evaluated Aug. 31, McMahon said.


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