U of M students arrive on campus, party in huge crowds

This wasn't part of the U of M's COVID-19 safety plan.

This wasn't part of the U of M's COVID-19 safety plan. Twitter

The University of Minnesota is getting the academic year off to a careful start, while trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with what it's calling the Maroon and Gold Sunrise plan.

The plan dictates a strict set of rules for students choosing to live in campus housing. Unless they’re working, attending class, going to appointments, or using a campus facility like a dining hall or a library, they’re supposed to remain in their dorms. If they’re outside, they’re supposed to remain six feet from one another. (Think: not like these kids.)

In the first phase of the plan (supposed to last 10 days after their arrival, starting September 15), they’re not even supposed to frequent businesses or residences off campus, or visit other residence halls.

“We know these requirements are different from any other year,” the plan says. “There will be special activities planned for all residence halls to help you connect with others in ways that abide by physical distancing and other public health guidance.”

The plan acknowledges this will be difficult, but insists it is possible – with teamwork and cooperation.

Posts on social media will inspire skepticism that students are off to a good start.

A University of Minnesota chemistry student posted video of a large group of students huddled together on campus on Saturday, saying the university’s Sunrise plan was “failing miserably.”

“Hundreds of fresh[men] out partying and campus security didn’t even answer the phone when called for help to shut this down,” she tweeted. “Profs & TAs these are the students showing up on Monday to in-person classes.”

Her thread included a few party scenes, including one of a kid in a sweatshirt who was apparently crowd-surfing.

All in all, it looked like an A for fun and an F for social distancing. The student said freshmen have been doing this “every day since they moved in on Tuesday” and “no one at the university will help.”

“The fresh[men] said when asked, they know the risks and consequences they just want to enjoy themselves while they can since everything is gonna get shut down anyway.”

This student wasn’t the only one taking to social media about unsafe activity. Another student tweeted at the “200+ UMN freshmen partying outside superblock last night” on Sunday and told them to get their “stupid covid-spreading asses” off campus.

One tweeted directly at the university and warned they were “gonna end up like [the University of Wisconsin] Madison,” which has suspended face-to-face classes after experiencing an outbreak of reported COVID-19 cases post-reopening.

The Sunrise plan includes a note saying that students are “expected” to follow the guidelines, "with the understanding that disciplinary action may be taken when expectations are not met."

The university sent a statement saying it was "aware" of the gathering of students outside the Superblock over the weekend. 

"Housing and Residential Life staff dispersed the crowd with help from the University of Minnesota Police Department," it said. "The University is reviewing any existing video of the event and will follow up with identified students, as appropriate." 

But the university took care to say that most students are following the Sunrise plan, and that this kind of gathering is "not at all unique" in terms of a normal opening weekend. The only thing that's changed are the circumstances.

"Our goal is to ensure students understand expected behaviors and why. We believe that by focusing on education and restorative justice, we can contribute to the education and development of our students, and ultimately generate more positive behavior than sanctions alone."  

It’s easy to get down on freshmen for purportedly being unsafe, but there are just as many posts on Twin Cities social media – particularly the school’s reddit forum – from students who have been isolated and disillusioned since the new semester started, and don’t really know what to do about it. Why let them come to campus, they ask, if they can't be with one another anyway?

“What am I supposed to do outside of the time I spend studying and in class?” one asks. “I don’t want to go out and be irresponsible… it gets lonely.”

“I was excited and hopeful,” another says, “but now I am depressed and lonely. I hate it here so far.”

The next step of the U's plan would have been to allow the use of student unions and the surrounding community, with a 9 p.m. curfew instated. It's supposed to take effect around the end of the month, if all goes well.