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The invisible hand of the Community Covenant and the censorship of our physical spaces

The current backlash directed towards the administration from the student body may feel rash. Though the varied backlashes address an array of issues, they all share one thing in common: the issues and subsequent grievances are symptoms of an encroaching and out-of-touch administrative body at Carleton. 

Beginning in Fall 2020, Carleton was forced to address the issue of maintaining a residential college before a vaccine against COVID-19 was created. Using the justification of keeping Carleton students, faculty, staff and community members healthy and safe, Carleton’s COVID-19 Core Team dictated physical restrictions on its population on campus. Though the Carleton Community Covenant, originally drafted in the summer of 2020, is nearly two years old, its effects still linger on campus today. 

The implementation of the Community Covenant was initially intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus while still maintaining a residential college experience for its students except for students who chose, or felt obligated, to stay online for the entirety of the last academic year. Certain aspects of the Community Covenant and COVID-life at Carleton were rational: Masks were required indoors, occupancy limits were placed on indoor spaces and the Green2Go program was begun to encourage sustainable take-out from the dining halls.

A failure of the Community Covenant, however, was the weaponization of the Community Concern Form. The CCF is currently used “whenever [students] believe that concerning behavior is affecting you or other members of our community.” It is primarily used and encouraged for cases of sexual harassment, abuse and assault, as well as cases of violence endured by students.

Last year, Carleton decided the CCF could be utilized to report people who violated the Community Covenant. By doing this, the original intent of the CCF had changed from a well-intentioned anonymous safety form to an opportunity for students and others to hide behind an online forum rather than verbally asking their peers to respect a document they had all collectively signed. 

In addition to the weaponization of the CCF and the subsequent mistrust of fellow students, additional issues from the Community Covenant continue to persist on campus. With the lack of physical social events supported by the administration last year due to COVID-19 concerns, Carleton’s student body is unaccustomed to social events being sponsored by the college.

Many Carleton traditions did not happen last year (some still were this year, such as the Midwinter Ball), such as the first-year frisbee toss, Cowling dances, Date Knight and, most relevantly, Spring Concert and Rotblatt. Students have accustomed themselves to resorting to creating their own fun, such as a giant slip-n-slide down Bell Field, captured on President Alison Byerly’s Twitter account @alisonbyerly.

Because of the recent low frequency of Carleton-sponsored social events, when social events are supported by the college, the event’s traditional aspects are altered by the administration under the guise of an irrelevant explanation: health and safety. 

The most pertinent example of alterations made to college-supported traditions are the recent changes made to this year’s Rotblatt. The changes to Rotblattinclude alcohol being served starting at 9 a.m., rather than the traditional 4 a.m. Alcohol will also only be served until 3 p.m. The administration’s intent with reducing the allotted time of alcohol serving is said to make Rotblatt a “more safe and contained event,” said Sophia Quast in her Carletonian article “Administration Enforces Changes to Rotblatt 156.”

The responses to the administration’s explanations of alumni who did not attend Carleton during any phase of the pandemic were illuminating. “​​Students always felt more unsafe at events where there was security and regulations around drinking because they would load up on intoxicants before going to the event while knowing that they wouldn’t have the freedom to go at a pace that was actually manageable and sustainable in the way that they were able to do at Rotblatt,” said Adam Siddiqui Shaukat ’17 when asked about the correlation between administration intervention and student’s attitude toward safety at Rotblatt. Shaukat also added that “the lack of regulation made everyone [at Rotblatt] more ready and willing and aware of helping people out because we all felt a sense of responsibility for one another.”

Though the reduction of the allotted time that alcohol will be served is intended to limit alcohol consumption, it will instead lead to students riskily and hastily drinking alcohol. 

The normalization of the college’s restrictions of student’s physical spaces for the sake off public health, compounded with the general lack of expectation of normalcy on campus, has ultimately led to a certain expectation on campus: As students, we must accept the regulations the college puts in place for us because it is in our health’s best interest. 

It is imperative that the student body rejects this norm. As members of a residential liberal arts institution, we should strive for freedom in both our speech and our actions, lest we become censored in either of those respects. As young students it is integral to our college experience to have agency over our own physical spaces. Though the college has a responsibility to keep us safe, the ultimate responsibility is to cultivate an institution “that understands that exploration and risk within reason necessary for creating full and well-rounded people,” said Shaukat. To censor any facet of the student experience, even via a falsely perceived risk of the health and safety threats that students may face, is antithetical to the tenets of a liberal arts education. Students should not accept the norms brought about by the lasting effects of the Community Covenant, and, instead, should take back what is rightfully ours: the campus and physical environment that are Carleton College. 

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