SGA holds town hall to address concerns around COVID-19 spike

“We are very concerned about the position that the University has put students in”

McKenna+Premus+%2F+Daily+Collegian+

McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Sophia Gardner, Assistant News Editor

On Thursday, the Student Government Association at the University of Massachusetts held a virtual town hall meeting via Zoom to address some questions regarding the University’s response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. They discussed the University’s response to these cases in different phases.

They first addressed the University’s decision to increase UMass’ COVID-19 risk level designation from “elevated” to “high.” They noted that this designation includes new restrictions for students living on campus in the Amherst area, including the two week self-sequester requirement. “That means they can only leave to get food, to pick up laundry and to walk their dog,” said SGA President Sonya Epstein.

The University’s high risk designation is an operational posture, which determines what restrictions the students and staff have to follow. The full list of operational postures can be found on UMass’ website.

The high risk posture also means that any classes that were supposed to be in-person will be virtual for a minimum of two weeks. SGA Speaker Julia Fox said this was to “make sure that the spread can be kept down,” adding, “It doesn’t look like there’s going to be any leniency on that.”

Fox also mentioned some of the academic resources available to students during this time. She reminded the attendees that students have the ability to make some of their classes pass/fail.

“The SGA advocated to the Faculty Senate to have this rule where only having one class be able to be elected pass/fail revoked, again,” she said. “Now, this semester, you’re able to have up to three courses selected pass fail.” She also noted that you can change a class to pass/fail up until the last day of classes, May 4.

Sara McKenna, the SGA secretary of university policy, talked about the concerns around off- campus and on-campus student employment. McKenna said that the SGA had been in contact with the University about student employment up until Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life, sent an email on Tuesday informing students that they could not go to their in-person jobs until the self-sequester is over.

“Since then we have not been able to get much more communication from them on this,” said McKenna. “But we are continuing to push for certain things, including guarantees that students will not be sanctioned for going to their off-campus employment, and also that on-campus employees will be paid for the hours that they were scheduled.”

The SGA also discussed a concern about ordering packages to campus. Some students had received an email telling them that they should limit the packages they get delivered to one per week. “Recently, we have communicated with Res Life regarding the issue of having the one package policy still in place considering we are asking students to self-sequester,” said Fox. “They are relaxing that policy for right now.”

The SGA Attorney General, Hayden Latimer-Ireland, addressed student conduct in relation to the COVID-19 spike. “I want to preface all of this by stating the SGA’s official stance on large gatherings and breaking the interim pandemic policy, which is basically ‘don’t,’” said Latimer-Ireland. We strongly condemn parties or gatherings, which in a pandemic will become these massive super-spreader events.”

Latimer-Ireland also noted that the SGA has an obligation to suspend or dissolve any Register Student Organizations who are found by the University’s conduct investigation to have violated University policy, or federal or state law.

McKenna urged students to report any large gatherings they see: “There’s a lack of accountability because there’s a lack of reporting.”

McKenna also addressed the lack of residence hall security. “This is concerning to us because we know that one of the guidelines is that visitors are not allowed in the dorms,” she said. “To make sure that people are not entering other dorms, it is important to have that residence hall security there.” She went on to say that the SGA plans to address this issue with administration.

Epstein acknowledged the extra responsibility of enforcing guidelines that has been put on Residence Assistants this semester. “We strongly agree that all of this weight and pressure should not be put solely on RAs [residential assistants]” they said. “Their top priority should be protecting their own safety.” They also noted that the SGA plans to push for more support from administration regarding enforcing guidelines within dorms.

Sophia Gardner can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sophieegardnerr.