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Mather House Schedules Meeting to Review Social Distancing Rules as Students Circulate Videos of Large Campus Gatherings

Some students say their peers have held gatherings by the Charles River and in campus courtyards that appear to violate the College's social distancing rules.
Some students say their peers have held gatherings by the Charles River and in campus courtyards that appear to violate the College's social distancing rules. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Juliet E. Isselbacher and Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writers

Mather House scheduled a meeting for residents Tuesday evening to review the College’s social distancing rules as some students say their peers have held gatherings by the Charles River and in campus courtyards that appear to violate them.

Mather tutor and community health lead Harita Koya wrote that the meeting would “clarify some misunderstandings about alcohol, partying, courtyard gatherings, compact violations, and disciplinary consequences.”

“I hear things have been pretty exciting down by the river the last few nights,” she wrote, inviting them to participate in an “honest” conversation about house norms.

“We will also be looking at a few of the rules in place for this semester and shedding some light on exactly what happens should they be violated,” she added.

Anusha Zaman ’23 — who is living in Mather this semester — said that while she thinks undergraduates have largely adhered to the College’s social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines, she was surprised to see “dozens” of students congregating by the Charles River this weekend.

“This past weekend, there's been a lot of partying happening for example, near [John W.] Weeks Bridge by the river,” Zaman said. “There’s been like dozens and dozens of people. They’re drinking from the same beer cans or White Claw cans. They're playing loud music.”

Zaman also said she has seen students gathering in the Mather courtyard, some not wearing masks.

“What's really striking is the amount of socializing that happens at night outside of the view of proctors and tutors,” she added.

While it is unclear if Harvard undergraduates organized or populated the gatherings, videos and photos of parties on campus circulated widely among students in recent days.

“@ the class of 2024: hey uhhh y'all maybe wanna be responsible so we seniors can still be on campus in spring? -- sincerely, c/o 2021,” read a submission posted to the Facebook page Harvard Confessions Monday evening, which garnered 91 likes from students. Harvard administrators have said that — public health conditions permitting — they hope to invite seniors back to campus for the spring semester.

The Mather meeting comes as Harvard has reported that just three of the 7,488 COVID-19 tests it conducted returned positive results. Just last Friday, administrators praised students’ respect for social distancing rules in an email announcing that students who test negative could gather in groups of up to five.

During the first quarantine phase, students had to self-isolate in their dorm rooms until receiving a negative result on their first test. Afterwards, they could take 30-minute walks outside in the area contiguous to their dorm in groups of up to two students. Upon receiving their third negative test results, students were then permitted to explore the Greater Boston area and gather in groups of no larger than five students.

The College will now allow students who received three negative coronavirus tests to begin socializing in groups of up to 10 while maintaining at least six feet of separation.

Students living on campus signed a Community Compact attesting that they planned to follow social distancing rules. In order to enforce the compact, Harvard formed a Community Council — partially composed of student volunteers — to adjudicate alleged violations. The College circulated an application to staff the committee in late August, but has not announced whether the group has heard any cases of student misbehavior.

Despite the weekend gatherings by the River, several freshmen say that the majority of their peers are adhering to the guidelines. Some have identified especially creative means by which to socialize and make friends, all within the College’s parameters.

Madison Pankey ’24 said she leaned out her window to greet her next-door neighbor upon arriving in her dorm room.

“That was my first real social interaction,” she said. “I started talking to him, and we instantly became friends.”

The two exchanged snacks and did a reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” between their two windows. Their two downstairs neighbors have since joined in on their window sill chats.

Pankey said she recorded some of their interactions and posted them on the video-sharing app TikTok, where one of her videos sparked inspiration in masses of lonely students, racking up more than 619,000 thousand views and 147,000 likes.

“Honestly, everyone's in the same position. And what you have to remember being here is that everybody is faced with these rules,” she said. “As long as you're open, other people are going to be, too.”

Albert W. Zhang ’24 also said he worked within the College’s guidelines to meet his peers, forging friends through virtual problem-set groups.

“[The guidelines have] actually been pretty reasonable so far,” Zhang said. “I think the vast majority of students are following them.”

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

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

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