Despite Georgetown University only allowing a limited number of students back on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are still living in the areas surrounding the campus. The Student Neighborhood Assistance Program patrols these areas when students are living there, monitoring for any violations of the Code of Student Conduct such as noise violations or COVID-19 infractions. Amid the unprecedented circumstances posed by the pandemic and new COVID-19 community restrictions, SNAP must be more cognizant of how its write-ups affect students’ records and act accordingly.
SNAP is a service coordinated by the Office of Neighborhood Life to respond to concerns from student and nonstudent community members about the quality of life in the community. During the fall 2020 semester, the Student Advocacy Office — which represents students responding to SNAP charges — has reported an increase in requests for defense compared to the 2019-20 school year because of increased penalties for conduct violations.
Michael Miller (SFS ’22), director of the SAO, told The Hoya that the SAO has seen more SNAP appeals surrounding COVID-19 infractions than originally expected. Miller also explained that many COVID-19 infractions actually start as noise complaints that then lead university officials to discover a large gathering.
Despite the increase in students reaching out to the SAO, SNAP administrators say there has not been an increase in SNAP cases relative to the last academic year, a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Because more students are approaching the SAO despite the same level of SNAP activity, it’s likely that a larger percentage of students are choosing to fight their SNAP violations. This increase can, in part, be attributed to the rising severity of SNAP sanctions since the fall 2020 semester began. Students are trying to fight their charges to avoid the severe ramifications that have recently been put in place because of COVID-19. Miller explained, however, that students may not be aware of the new rules for off-campus living due to a lack of widespread communication from Georgetown administrators.
“The severity of the sanctions got a lot more serious without an actual public statement [from] the university, which I think is irresponsible once again,” Miller said in an interview. “The Office of Student Conduct has been releasing all these updates on their website that are not going to the student body.”
The Office of Student Conduct must work to directly notify students of this increase in the severity of consequences for SNAP violations. While students certainly have a responsibility to check the rules and regulations, a clear email notification will go a long way toward allowing students to maintain a strong relationship with the neighborhood. When students are clearly notified of the rules, they are less likely to cause a disturbance to the surrounding households. This communication is especially vital during a time of extra stress for students.
“The other really, really significant part of this is that they’re not allowing appeals for anything that’s lower than suspension or dismissal, which I think is irresponsible because appeals are really, really hard to do in the status quo,” Miller said. The decision to bar the appeals process, Miller explained, was newly implemented by the Office of Student Conduct for the fall 2020 semester.
The Office of Student Conduct also allows students to pay fees — typically handed down if a student is caught violating conduct rules — by working at certain university offices for $10/hour. This penalty was removed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this indicates that these fines were never necessary. Even during a normal semester, working ten extra hours a week places a significant and unacceptable burden on students, especially those from low-income backgrounds.
The OSC’s decision to remove fines was a responsible choice to make during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is still more work to be done to protect students from the Office of Student Conduct ramifications that may severely impact them during the time of COVID-19.
It is important that SNAP continues to monitor for COVID-19-related rule violations to keep students safe. Certainly, large gatherings pose a greater risk of spreading COVID-19. However, even small gatherings that are now occurring outside — to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — may attract noise calls. Furthermore, if the Office of Student Conduct is not making its guidelines widely available, students may not be aware of the harsher consequences put in place for the fall 2020 semester. Therefore, with noise levels increasing due to COVID-19 and the Office of Student Conduct implementing new, severe ramifications, SNAP must carefully consider each violation they issue to students.
The Office of Student Conduct must work more closely with SNAP and students to ensure all guidelines are clear and that students’ standing with the university is not put in jeopardy during such a challenging semester.
The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and is chaired by the opinion editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.
CORRECTION: Language concerning the Office of Student Conduct and SNAP responsibilities was changed on September 21, 2020 to reflect the difference between the two offices.