Groups of students gathered outside of Gilbert-Addoms dorm on East Campus the night of Aug. 12, chatting and partying less than six feet apart.
First-year Angela Torrejon was walking back to her dorm when she heard the commotion of the gathering. She was disheartened.
“I thought that we would be smarter about how we handled the COVID situation,” she said. “The last thing I wanted to do was go home and I know that I’m not the only one.”
It was not the first large gathering she had seen during move-in week. Torrejon recalled large gatherings outside of GA nearly every night and observed social media posts of first-year gatherings on West Campus.
First-year Angela Torrejon felt that a lack of adult supervision potentially caused these gatherings and that not much was put in place to prevent them.
“At the beginning, when we first got here, I don’t recall any specific adult interactions,” she said.
First-year Olivia Fan agreed, noting that she did not meet her resident assistant until her second week on campus.
“At first, I was confused and didn’t know who I should go to,” Fan said. “I know that it’s hard right now because we need to do everything in a virtual environment, but even adding some in-person element would be helpful to add that connection.”
RAs were still sequestering around the time first-years began moving in Aug. 7, limiting their ability to supervise and interact with residents, said Joe Gonzalez, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean for residential life.
Additionally, not all RAs had completed training at that time. Gonzalez said that although there were some live RA training sessions, most of the training took the form of a series of modules and sessions that RAs could do on their own time. Additionally, each residential area had different strategies for how they would pursue connections with their students.
“The overall goal is to help students with that transition and connect with students, but how they pursue it is going to vary by team,” Gonzalez said.
The Compliance Team, a key aspect of Duke’s strategy to enforce COVID-19 rules, was also not yet in place during move-in week, said Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president for student affairs, senior advisor and member of the C-Team. She said that the team officially began work Aug. 24—more than two weeks after students began moving in—as it took time to prepare the team and address “so many” other issues and priorities as the school year began.
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“People have been working feverishly during the summer to try to make this semester and this year work,” Wasiolek said. “Things have emerged as needs as time has gone on, and I think the C-Team emerged clearly as a need once we got this semester started.”
Wasiolek said the C-Team aims to contribute to the safety and health of the community by enforcing masking and social distancing policies. In the case of large gatherings—such as the one that occurred outside GA on Aug. 12—she said that the C-Team would approach the group, explain what the role of the team is, and politely ask the students to disperse.
“I don’t know how many gatherings there were early on… but the good news is that the C-Team has been in place since then, and hopefully we are doing a better job at addressing these concerns,” Wasiolek said.
The C-team hopes that students will be vigilant in wearing masks, practicing social distancing and taking room occupancy limits seriously.
“I know that students desperately want to spend time together and be together… in larger groups,” Wasiolek acknowledged. “I would just ask students to recognize that risk and appeal to them to avoid that temptation.
Some first-years feel that the University’s enforcement of and adherence to coronavirus restrictions has gotten better with time.
“There are a lot of us who respect the rules and are good about wearing our masks and staying distant if they’re going to be socializing with people,” Torrejon said.
Yet first-year Aaliyah Turrietta believes that regardless of how strongly restrictions were enforced the first week, the large gatherings would likely have happened anyways.
“It’s been six months and even though we should be used to it by now… you feel the pressures of, ‘I want to have friends,’ but you’re not really having events to make friends,” Turietta said.