Syracuse students suspended in latest crackdown by colleges

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In this photo provided by Marilyn Hesler and Syracuse University, a student wearing a mask wheels her belongings up a ramp to move into her dorm, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y. (Marilyn Hesler/Syracuse University via AP)

Syracuse University has suspended 23 students following a large on-campus gathering, the latest example of college crackdowns on the kind of socializing that can spread the coronavirus and sink plans for in-person learning this semester.

Syracuse officials announced the disciplinary action late Thursday and said they were reviewing security camera footage to identify additional students seen on video crowding into the campus Quad Wednesday night in violation of rules limiting crowds and requiring masks.

The gathering drew a sharp rebuke earlier from Vice Chancellor J. Michael Haynie, who said participants had undercut efforts to make residential learning possible.

“We have one shot to make this happen,” Haynie wrote in a letter to students. “The world is watching, and they expect you to fail. Prove them wrong.”

Social media has been filled with such gatherings in recent weeks as college students make their way back to campuses nationwide.

Purdue University suspended 36 students for going to a party. Other suspensions have been reported at Virginia Tech, St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Radford University in Virginia.

On Friday, Northeastern University sent warning letters to 115 freshmen who had responded “Hell Yeah” to another student’s Instagram poll on whether they planned to have or go to parties, spokeswoman Renata Nyul said.

“Even if this gesture on social media was made in jest, your willingness to mock the well-being of our community, and the efforts made to protect it, demonstrates a degree of carelessness that does not meet the values and principles we uphold,” read the letters, which threatened to rescind the admission of students who fail to comply with the university’s terms.

Some universities have brought students back only to reverse course and move classes online amid outbreaks linked in some cases to student housing and parties. Notre Dame and Michigan State universities are among the latest to announce the switch this week. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said it would revert to remote learning after clusters of the virus were discovered in dorms, a fraternity house and other student housing.

Some say students are being set up to take the blame. A UNC-Chapel Hill student newspaper editorial said leadership there “should have expected students, many of whom are now living on their own for the first time, to be reckless.”

As at other campuses, arriving Syracuse students were asked to sign a pledge to follow guidelines, which also include avoiding travel during the semester and submitting to virus testing. Campus security broke up Wednesday’s gathering, and the students identified so far received interim suspensions, which can be appealed.

Penn State on Thursday suspended a fraternity for hosting a party that violated the school’s COVID-19 ban on Greek gatherings. Videos and photos showed the Pennsylvania Lambda chapter of Phi Kappa Psi hosting an indoor gathering of more than 15 people, university officials said.

Penn State officials also said they had to disperse crowds of students, many of them maskless, who were congregating on campus late Wednesday.

In a note to the campus community, Penn State President Eric Barron warned that such behavior could prompt the university to send students home and shift to remote instruction.

“I ask students flouting the University’s health and safety expectations a simple question:” Barron wrote. “Do you want to be the person responsible for sending everyone home?”

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Collin Binkley in Boston and Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania contributed to this report. Thompson reported from Buffalo, N.Y.

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