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Harvard’s Social Distancing Disciplinary Process, Explained

College administrators launched a form for students to anonymously report social distancing violations.
College administrators launched a form for students to anonymously report social distancing violations. By Zadoc I.N. Gee
By Juliet E. Isselbacher and Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard College released a form for reporting social distancing violations — complete with space for photos and videos — as part of a rollout of its disciplinary process for students in residence.

Before arriving on campus, students living in Harvard’s dorms signed a Community Compact affirming that they would abide by social distancing rules and other safety guidelines.

Though administrators have largely touted the success of students’ first weeks on campus and praised their adherence to College guidelines, recent reports of large social gatherings in house courtyards and along the Charles River have prompted sharp rebuke from administrators and other students.

The College also formed a Community Council — composed of an equal number of student volunteers, faculty, and staff members — to enforce the community compact and adjudicate alleged violations. Associate Dean of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Brett Flehinger and the Special Advisor to the Harvard College Dean's Office related to COVID-19 Meghan Lockwood serve as co-chairs of the council.

In an email to undergraduates Tuesday, Flehinger and Lockwood announced the launch of the new Community Council section of the Dean of Students Office website, replete with the complete council procedures, a form used to report inquiries and complaints, and more.

The procedures outlined offer insight into the community council’s structure and inner workings — from a report to review to potential removal from campus. Here’s a primer on the process.

Council reviews begin with a report filed by a Harvard affiliate through the online reporting form.

The form requires the person filing a report to provide the date, the location, and a “detailed description” of the infraction in question. It also invites them to also submit any “supporting documentation” — such as a video or picture. The Council also requires reporting parties to add their name, and states that the subjects of investigations “will always have access to the same information that the Council reviews.”

“We do require a name, given that anonymous reports hamper our ability to respond effectively,” the form explains.

Once the council receives a report from an affiliate, the chair — or the community health lead — has two options. They can deliver an oral warning to the perpetrator of a “less significant offense,” or initiate a formal review.

“A review does not necessarily mean that the Residential Community Compact has been violated,” the procedures emphasize, however.

A College representative will notify any student implicated in the review and organize an initial meeting, during which they will receive a copy of the report filed against them in addition to any other case materials.

Students subjected to a review can’t discuss information they learn or share information they acquire throughout the process except with those “who have a need to know.” That group includes family members, mental health professionals, clergy, and legal counsel, in addition to their resident dean and their house’s community health lead. The student’s community health lead is intended to serve as a “source of support” throughout the review period.

Unless public health concerns call for an expedited process, the student must submit a written statement within 48 hours of their initial meeting in response to the report filed against them in order to provide context and information to “broaden” the Council’s understanding of the circumstances.

If the review involves more than one student, those implicated in a given incident may access “redacted” versions of their peers’ statements before formally meeting with the council, if they are requested to do so.

Stil, the procedures state that the College expects that students involved in the same case must write their own statements without conferring with each other. Students who do not comply with this expectation may face disciplinary action.

After reading the student’s statement and soliciting any other relevant information, the chair will decide whether the full council should review the student’s actions. If the chair directs the council to proceed, they will invite the student in for a meeting with a “team” of eight council members.

“Meeting with the Council is an opportunity for the student to explain the situation and to augment the initial statement,” the procedures state. “It will also be an opportunity for the members of the Council to ask questions and engage with the student on the concern that has been raised.”

After the meeting, the team will vote by simple majority on whether the student breached the community compact. If they vote in the affirmative, they will then decide what measures should be taken against the student.

Council reviews will have one of four outcomes: a no violation determination, a warning, “community responses” like education, and removal from housing.

If the council is “sufficiently persuaded” a student violated the community compact, they will receive a formal warning letter.

The Council will assign “community responses” — an educational engagement as an alternative to removal from housing — if the body is sufficiently persuaded that a “serious violation” of the compact has occurred.

However, the Council may deem some offenses so serious that they would merit a more significant response for a single or first violation.

Students risk removal from the College’s residential housing for up to two semesters if the council finds that a student has committed a “serious” violation or a “series of repeated, less serious” violations of the compact. A student removed from housing may remain enrolled as an undergraduate and continue their Harvard-affiliated remote extracurricular activities.

In order to become eligible for residential housing after removal, a student must submit a statement to the council chair and the Dean of Students Katie G. O’Dair addressing the cause for their dismissal and suitability of their return to campus dorms. The Dean of Students Office will determine whether the student may return to residential housing.

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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