By Varsha Subramanian
While many schools switched to remote learning for the fall semester because of the coronavirus pandemic, Boston University was one of the few to open their gates to students.
Following a hybrid “Learn from Anywhere” model, BU has provided students with the flexibility to attend classes from anywhere. This model also enables students to attend in-person classes and experience life on campus, with restrictions, of course.
The success of this reopening is highly dependent on students on campus following the social distancing rules put in place, wearing masks, and getting tested regularly. Failure to do any of these could lead to the cancellation of in-person classes, pushing students to return home, even when it is not their best or safest option.
So when Isabella Watson, a junior in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development, found more than 20 students gathered in close proximity without masks on Nickerson Field, she did not hesitate to call them out.
So, Friday at 7:30, I went down to Nickerson field for a socially distanced hang out with two of my friends. And when I got there, I just looked around, and there were so many people. There were so many people.
There were people not wearing masks, playing soccer and catch and stuff. And then there were people all over the place on picnic blankets. And it was around dinnertime, so a lot of people were eating, so they didn’t have their masks [on]. And there’s so many people in the stadium seating. There’s just people everywhere.
So we found our own place that was kind of away from people. And I was just looking around, and we were talking about it. And I was like, ‘This makes me really, really mad.’ Like, this is the reason why we’re probably gonna get sent home. It’s cause of people like this, who prioritize their own fun and amusement over others.
And I just, I got—I don’t know why I got so worked up. And I told my friends, I was like, ‘Should I say something?’ They’re like, ‘No, don’t be a Karen.’ I was like, ‘You know what, I kind of want to be a Karen.’”
In anticipation of students breaking the rules put in place for the safety of students and faculty, BU Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore sent out an email on Wednesday, outlining the repercussions students would face if they were to violate the Boston University Code of Student Responsibility, which would lead to a suspension.
The email also stated that a hotline and on online form had been set up to report students who are ignorant to the social distancing rules. Watson attempted to report the event through the two mediums but was met with no response.
Following the lack of response, Watson took to Instagram, posting pictures and videos of the large group of students on Nickerson Field who were openly violating the social distancing rules. In her post, she urged the University to take immediate action. The post on Instagram currently has over 2,000 likes and close to 200 comments.
First of all, we decided that we would call the anonymous tip number that Dean Elmore sent out in his email. So, um, I called on my phone, and it rang, and it rang, and it rang. And finally, an automated voice message picked up. And it said, ‘Please enter the seven digits from your mailbox number in order to speak to a representative,’ or, like, something like that.
I’m like, ‘What? Do you mean my BU ID, my mailbox number?’ Like, I don’t know what that means. And I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I called them the wrong number and maybe it was an error.’ So I called back, same message. Like, that’s really weird.
So then I went on the anonymous reporting form that they sent out. And I took a picture on my iPhone, and I went to upload it. But the form doesn’t support pictures taken from iPhones, which is what a lot of people have on campus. So that was really annoying too. And even if I did report it on the form, who’s going to come immediately after I post something on a form? So I was like, ‘Hmm.’
And on our way out—because we left very shortly after, we were not going to stick around with all those people hanging around—I was like, ‘Guys, I’m going to say something.’
So, I went up to one of the groups and I basically went, ‘Why aren’t you guys wearing masks? Like, you’re so close together.’ There was this group—of who I assumed freshmen, because they looked young they all had their lanyards on them—sitting, and there were like 20, like, easily 25 of them, sitting so close together—you saw the video. And I went up to them—you also saw that in the video—and I basically said, like, ‘Why aren’t you wearing masks?’
And that wasn’t the first time I went up to them, in the video. Actually, I had gone up to them another time. And they laughed at me. They literally laughed at me. Some of them pretended to ignore me. And, as I walked away that first time, I heard them making fun of me as I walked away. And I was like, ‘How entitled do you have to be to make fun of somebody, because they asked you to follow the rules?’ Like, does that even make sense?
So that’s why, in the video, I am a little rude. I’m like, ‘Why aren’t you guys wearing masks? Like, wear masks.’ And I kind of just walked away. And you even saw, like some of the people were wearing masks, but the majority of them were not.
Watson and her friend Peyton approached the security and residence life staff in West Campus, both of whom said that it was beyond their jurisdiction to take any action. She then called the BUPD, who said that they could not interfere, but would consult their supervisor later.
However, after the Instagram post garnered attention from the BU community, the dean’s office contacted Watson and apologized for the delay in their response.
I’ve gotten responses from the dean’s office. A couple other people reached out that I can’t remember, like just higher-ups and the administration, basically all apologizing to me, which—I am not the person you should be apologizing to. You should be apologizing to the entire university for letting this happen.
And then they’ve also said that they’ve sent an email out to all the residents on West Campus. But again, not the issue. I doubt that every single person on the field was in West Campus—I live in South. I don’t live on West Campus, I was still there. So that, again, is not a solution.
They said that they would put up more signs. What’s the point of putting up signs if you don’t have anybody enforcing what the signs say? So, yeah, that’s basically the story.
Watson said that the University must take stronger action by allocating people to act as buffers in popular student meet-up areas like the BU Beach and Nickerson Field. She further said that the defense that it is okay to not social distance if you test negative is wrong.
Your testing negative is not a free pass to disobey rules, and do everything else. In the time after you got your negative test, you may have come into contact—like it’s not a free pass, to just do whatever you want.
And I totally feel that, because I’m also a low income student. And living at BU is, like, keeping me alive. So, I’m on a full scholarship. Like, I have worked so hard to be here. And seeing all these people— [I’m] not trying to call out the entire freshman class, but who are majority freshmen—who are just blatantly disobeying rules, it’s just so heartbreaking to see.
And I’ve gotten a lot of hate for posting that—you’ve seen that message that I posted, but also I’ve gotten so many DMs, basically saying, ‘If you care about it so much, why don’t you just stay home?’
One, [that’s] not an option for me and the thousands of other students on campus who can’t stay home. Two, do you expect the cashier at City Co to stay home? Do you expect the driver of the T to stay home? Do you expect—like, who else has to stay home so you can hang out with your friends? Really. It’s so—oh my God, it gets me so angry.
A spokesperson for the University said that the issue is being handled by the Dean of Students Office. The Dean of Students Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.