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Vague language in Community Covenant leads to inconsistencies in adherence and enforcement

Even before returning to campus, students were fervently discussing the meaning of the Carleton Community Covenant and reaching few conclusions.

The Covenant, which every student, faculty and staff member was required to sign in order to participate in on-campus life, sets out to establish new rules and community guidelines designed to maintain the safety and wellbeing of all who set foot on Carleton’s campus. But for such an important document for Carleton’s future, there is widespread confusion among students regarding what the Covenant specifically mandates for campus life. 

Now that the new year has started, students are grappling with what exactly the Covenant allows. While the Covenant encourages students to “limit” social interactions outside of a person’s “social hub,” it does little to explain what this actually looks like. What is a social hub? How many people can students be in close contact with, if any? These questions have big implications for student life, but no direct answers.

RAs especially have felt the added pressure of enforcing the Covenant and loosely monitoring social behavior. As the front-line against gatherings and parties in the dorms, many RAs have expressed anxiety about their roles in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and what exactly is an acceptable social gathering versus one that violates the Covenant and should be reported.  

Joe Radinsky ’23, an RA in Myers, has felt the strain of enforcing the new rules on campus, saying it’s taken an emotional toll. “It’s been really stressful,” he said. “It feels like the balance that I’m having to consider is between creating a community and taking on a policing role. In a lot of ways it’s inhibiting community-building. Part of the expectation of being an RA is monitoring, which feels really uncomfortable to me.” 

Sawyer Blair ’23, another RA in Goodhue, said he is also confused about what the Covenant mandates, and is struggling to find the balance between campus safety and social health. “I was a little bit unclear about what exactly a social hub is, how big exactly it is supposed to be,” Blair said. “I would’ve liked to see information as well about policies that the college was making about cleanliness, and how sanitation is being handled.” As the Covenant doesn’t specify many aspects of social life, RAs find themselves having to improvise as they go.

Radinsky added that the guidelines around establishing pods are unclear. When students at RA training asked for clarification on who was allowed in a pod, he said, “they basically just said ‘no one,’ but acknowledged that that’s not going to happen. I think that’s challenging in terms of setting realistic expectations for behavior.” 

According to Maya Rogers ’22, one of the student liaisons who aided in writing the Covenant and laying out the guidelines for living on campus, some of the lack of specificity in the Covenant was intentional, since it does not just apply to students living on campus.

When writing the Covenant, Rogers said she needed to consider all of the people who would be following it. She explained, “The Covenant had to apply to the students who are living in a dorm, the students who are living in the Northfield Option, the staff who come in, and the faculty who are teaching on campus. All of those are completely encompassed in the Covenant, and the Covenant is not written more specifically than that. The Covenant was very specifically applied to absolutely everyone who is using this community in person.”

In this sense, Rogers expressed hope that Carls would be able to see the bigger picture of the Covenant, and the intent behind it of mutual respect and intentionality when choosing whether, when, and with whom to engage in close social interaction. 

When describing whether there’s any specific number of close contacts that we should limit ourselves to, Rogers said, “The best number would be zero, but that’s not realistic, that’s not what’s happening, that’s not what’s going to happen. So we’re not expecting zero people, and because of that, the range is just the smallest you can make it. And we can’t say, ‘everyone has five close contacts.’ That’s just not feasible, and it’s not even necessarily safer.” 

Rogers encourages her peers to think more about why people are close contacts and take time to be intentional about who they are in contact with rather than focusing on a specific number of people. “Respect is much more important than any number,” she said. 

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