Officials said they plan to enforce the University’s new residence hall guest policy, but students are expecting that a trend of residents bypassing restrictions could continue this fall.
The University updated the COVID-19 related guest policy last month, prohibiting off-campus students from visiting residence halls and limiting visiting hours for on-campus students to between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. In nearly 10 interviews, students said they don’t think the University is fully enforcing the guest rules, leaving room for residents to violate the policy.
Stewart Robinette, the assistant dean of students, said staff with the Division for Student Affairs and Campus Living and Residential Education can refer students to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities for guest policy violations, some of which have been reported by students. He said SRR penalized about 50 students for guest violations last year, with consequences ranging from warnings to removal from residence halls.
“We can monitor building activity through tap readers and lobby cameras,” Robinette said in an email. “DSA staff and Community Coordinators may also see comings and goings of students as part of their daily interactions with residents of their building and observe people who are not residents of that building.”
Robinette said officials may adjust the stringency of the guest policy depending on the severity of the pandemic, but officials may still need to create stricter rules if violations continue.
“Unfortunately, if a significant number of students fail to follow the guest policies, that may mean that more stringent and more easily enforceable policies will have to be put in place,” Robinette said. “It is our hope that this year’s residential students take this policy seriously.”
Officials loosened campus coronavirus restrictions in July when they allowed off-campus students who were part of the on-campus cohort – students who were subject to vaccine requirements, weekly testing and symptom monitoring – to visit people in residence halls. Officials reversed course with last month’s announcement that barred off-campus students from residence halls.
This is the fifth iteration of the guest policy since the beginning of the pandemic — officials initially banned all guests until March, when residents could host one other resident from their hall as a guest. The rules were loosened further in May when officials allowed on-campus students to visit other residence halls, and again in July when officials granted some off-campus students access to rooms.
A page on the CLRE website displays an outdated guest policy from July 2020, stating that all guests – including those living on campus – are banned from residence halls. The correct policy is available on the CLRE’s main page, but there is no section that displays potential consequences for violations.
Senior Brennen Owens, who lives in The Aston, said officials should publicize the consequences of guest policy violations, which he thinks will be inevitable because of more than a year of coronavirus restrictions on gatherings. GW’s housing license agreement states that visitors in violation of the University’s policies can face a range of repercussions from warnings to arrest, but officials have previously said they did not plan to pursue some of the most severe consequences outlined in the agreement.
“People are going to break that, you can’t stop that from happening,” Owens said. “I think they should be more clear about the consequences for it, because not a lot of people are going to follow it.”
Freshman Annie O’Brien, who lives in West Hall, said she doesn’t think the University is enforcing the policy, which is too strict because of the ban against overnight guests. She said she’d like to invite overnight guests from other universities, and she’s faced no restrictions visiting others in their residence halls after 11 p.m.
“I feel like they haven’t done the best job enforcing it, and I know that because I definitely haven’t been following it,” she said.
O’Brien said she mostly understood the policy when she first stepped on campus, but she said the high volume of emails announcing policy changes made it difficult for her to keep up with the most up-to-date regulations.
“I just got a bunch of different emails, and it was hard to know which one is which,” she said.
Senior Mark Yamakaitis, who lives in South Hall, said the guest policy is fair, but he doesn’t think people will follow it after more than a year of restrictions and doesn’t know how officials could enforce it.
“I don’t know what they can do, I mean people have been gone for a year and a half,” he said. “I think they’re just going to do what they want.”
Freshman Erin Coyle said she doesn’t think the University is enforcing the guest rules, which she considers to be fair during the pandemic.
“I don’t think they’re really enforcing it a whole bunch, but I can see where they’re coming from with the whole policy,” she said. “It makes sense given COVID.”
Sophomore Emma Gray, who lives in Shenkman Hall, said the guest policy is fair but also somewhat unnecessary because students can still travel freely throughout the city and interact with others without much restriction elsewhere.
“Students are able to see and visit whoever they please during the day, so the risk for infection is still present even though off-campus guests aren’t physically allowed in residence halls,” she said in an email. “Because the risk would likely be the same with a more lenient policy, I think that a more lenient policy would be beneficial to student morale as we all try our best to acclimate to campus living.”
Nicholas Pasion contributed reporting.