A petition started by an Ohio University student is calling for university administration to punish students holding large gatherings or partying, effectively violating social distancing guidelines put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Olivia Gemarro, a senior studying English creative writing and sociology-criminology pre-law, started the petition as an incentive for people to follow public health orders.
“I feel like the way it stood before OU came forward and said that they’d be issuing suspensions for violators, it was very lenient,” Gemarro said. “Without that promise of swift and immediate action, people felt like it would be easy to get away with having these kinds of gatherings.”
The university has since announced it will be enforcing the safety guidelines of 10 or less people with possible suspensions, or other consequences.
“If we receive reports of students not following our safety expectations, students will be held accountable via the Student Code of Conduct and could face consequences, including removal from any in-person classes or even a University suspension,” Carly Leatherwood, university spokesperson, said in an email.
Gemarro said because of the relationship that the university has to Athens, OU is obligated to protect the community.
“It’s imperative that we act in the best interest of the permanent residents of this place that we basically come and go within,” she said.
Gemarro said she has personally seen many violations of the 10 people or less rule on places like Mill Street and Palmer Street. She believes these actions are not only llegal, but immoral and unethical. However, Gemarro feels that punishment should be handled on a case-by-case basis.
“Say there’s a party of 11 people. I wouldn’t want that to be punished nearly as hard as like a gathering of 20 or 30,” she said.
Germarro said she has full faith in the Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility to do the right thing in terms of presenting students who violate the rules.
Autumn Murphy, a senior studying history and a supporter of the petition, said the university should have had these rules in place earlier. Nevertheless, she said college students should act responsibly enough to follow the guidelines in place.
“If you’re in college and you’re old enough to have your name on the lease, then you should be old enough to understand the repercussions,” Murphy said.
Students also have the responsibility to protect those that were recently laid off by the university, possibly losing their healthcare access, Murphy said.
“All of a sudden, their lifeline has just been cut during a pandemic,” she said. “For the college students just to come back and just recklessly go to the bars or recklessly host house parties, it’s definitely a slap in the face to those people.”