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Editorial: Partying puts Westwood community at risk, needs to be met with consequences

By Editorial Board

Oct. 15, 2020 4:25 p.m.

The phrase “party till you drop” was never meant to be taken literally.

Despite nearly all classes being online, UCLA students have either filled the few open spots in university housing or spilled into Westwood apartments. Students living in university housing are subject to UCLA’s regular COVID-19 testing and quarantine protocols.

Everyone else – not so much.

Universities that began their academic years months before UCLA have already dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks — the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Southern California being two of many campuses facing the consequences of poor planning.

As much as those universities don’t want to admit it, the outbreaks were closely related to off-campus parties and students flagrantly violating public health guidelines. A typical weekend night walk through Westwood shows UCLA won’t be any different.

It’s clear that the risk of COVID-19 alone won’t stop students from partying. Though, what can change students’ behavior is the risk of punishment. UCLA needs to set clear expectations for its students living off campus, and those expectations must force students to understand they can no longer put the Westwood community at risk by partying.

The university already has guidelines for what it expects of students off-campus, but the specifics are a hot mess of administrative jargon. The guidelines themselves were hardly publicized — they were buried on page 10 of a PDF linked in an email sent by a university administrator.

Punishments are layered in a set of jumbled sentences, and it’s hardly clear what the repercussions for violating guidelines actually are. All UCLA guaranteed was that “second-level” violations would result in a “referral to (the) Office of Student Conduct.”

If UCLA wants to get its students’ attention, it needs to take a strong stance against social distancing violations – and not just for those living on campus. Policies can be glossed over and ignored. Enforced academic holds, suspensions, rescinded scholarships and dismissals, however, cannot.

It’s not unreasonable. Other colleges have implemented discipline structures to punish their willfully defiant students. Ohio State University, for example, suspended more than 200 students for holding or attending gatherings of more than 10 people.

At the end of the day, it would be virtually impossible for UCLA to find and punish every student who goes to a party. And it’s not necessarily UCLA’s fault that its students would still choose to violate universally accepted social distancing guidelines to party during a pandemic that has killed more than 216,000 people in the United States.

College-aged students are not the only ones at risk in Westwood — professors, employees, residents and students with families are some of the others who would be at the receiving end of a COVID-19 outbreak in Westwood. All it takes is one death among the UCLA community to turn the school’s passive, hands-off approach into a fully preventable tragedy.

And that risk is simply unacceptable.

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