Saturday, December 4, 2021

COVID-19 gatherings continue: How a few MSU students give all a bad name

November 9, 2020
<p>Michigan State University students partying near a burning couch in an alley off of Division Street on Oct. 31, 2020.</p>

Michigan State University students partying near a burning couch in an alley off of Division Street on Oct. 31, 2020.

Photo by Di'Amond Moore | The State News

Despite East Lansing and Michigan State's efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, gatherings continue off-campus. Recently, gatherings have resulted due to game days.

Mayor Aaron Stephens said most MSU students are doing the right thing, but a few are giving the rest a bad name.

According to MSU communications, students could be suspended for disregarding health orders on game days.

"Off-campus behavior does have on-campus consequences," MSU Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen said.

In total, 21 gathering fines have resulted from Spartan game days. None of the game day gathering locations have been repeated offenders, according to Gonzalez.

Three gathering violations occurred Saturday when Spartans lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes 49-7, according to East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez.

"We responded to a handful of regular noise complaints, but nothing out of the ordinary," Gonzalez said. "It was actually very quiet for the nice weather we had."

This is the lowest number of gathering violations since the first game day on Oct. 24, which resulted in seven gathering violations. At the time, outdoor gatherings were limited to 25 people.

Leading up to the MSU vs. Umich game day, which doubled as Halloween, the local health department limited outdoor gatherings to 10 people.

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Eleven gatherings occurred Oct. 31 with each gathering violation carrying a $500 fine. Additionally, 24 fires and two arrests resulted from furniture burning.

"The vast majority of our students are doing the right thing," Olsen said. "...We do have some exceptions of students who are disregarding that expert guidance at the expense of the health, safety and welfare of not only themselves but our surrounding East Lansing community."

The MSU Community Compact is the basis for off-campus behavior leading to on-campus repercussions. The compact includes a requirement to follow all local health ordinances, which means game-day gatherings are a violation.

Since the compact was created, 83 MSU students have been subject to the student conduct process. During the process, students could have an interim suspension, which could bar them from participating in classes.

As of Friday, 29 interim suspensions have occurred, as well as seven full suspensions of at least one semester, Olsen said.

The university may suspend any person who puts a person or property in danger, Olsen said. In other words, by endangering the health of others, a student can experience an interim or full suspension without a refund.

"As we start to think about things like going home for the break, I mean, these are things that we need to kind of get under control now so... students aren't contributing to (the) transmission of the virus," Olsen said.

The university recently offered COVID-19 testing to students before they return home for fall break.

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East Lansing city officials have also taken several measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, such as gathering limits, mask ordinances, fines for violations and other creative approaches.

"I, myself, did everything from walk around handing out masks to posting a satirical video of me complaining about Chads, because whatever works, works," Mayor Aaron Stephens said.

Stephens' video was posted Aug. 26 and can be viewed below. Throughout the pandemic, Stephens has remained active on Facebook.

Stephens said he has received backlash for posting on Facebook about issues in the community, which he does not do to be malicious but to show community occurrences.

"I don't think that leadership is about putting on a brave face and telling the people that everything's going to be OK," Stephens said. "I think it's about really talking about the issues that you're facing."

City officials have done almost everything they can, Stephens said. This is why there are no longer warnings prior to the issue of gathering fines.

Before the city cracked down on gathering fines, city officials would try and educate violators first.

"We do all the education, we do all the outreach, we do all of the follow up after," Stephens said. "...The truth is, I don't know what else we can do and that's a sad reality for me as mayor because people are still getting sick."

Stephens has seen houses cover their windows in order to have gatherings exceeding the ordinance limit, he said.

Now, the city needs personal cooperation with COVID-19 measures and students to prioritize the community's health over a party.

A small sect of MSU students decided parties are more important, which Stephens said gives all other students a bad name. Stephens said this stings, as he was elected to the city council as an MSU student.

"I am the guy that really wants to say that everybody in this community is doing everything that they can and that we're all in this together," Stephens said. "... It sucks to say that I'm seeing problems from our student population because I don't want to be that person."

Despite recent incidents, Stephens said he is optimistic going forward.

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