Rice University’s ‘COVID Community Court’ Divides Students
Rice University has mobilized its students to monitor violations of COVID-19 guidelines via the COVID Community Court (CCC). The CCC assigns students to investigate and also judge their peers, which is now causing a rift between them.
Rice University launched the CCC to enforce the coronavirus guidelines of the school’s Culture of Care Agreement. All students must sign the agreement, which states that violations “will be handled by the COVID-19 Community Court.”
Selected student judges such as Melody Xiao preside over the CCC. She told Texas Monthly that her fellow students want the “stereotypical college experience” of having parties and social events, but that “this is not a normal semester.” She said that “desperate times call for desperate measures” to ensure that everyone understands the gravity of the situation.
Xiao emphasized the necessity of following safety protocols as she explained to the Houston Chronicle how she got infected through her off-campus part-time job. “We had a customer who refused to wear a mask come in and ended up coughing on me,” she said. This incident influenced her decision to become a student judge.
High Cost of Safety
However, some students feel that the CCC has become a “patrol.” Junior Julian Braxton explained that he “can’t help but be a little scared.” He feels that he is being watched whenever he engages in social interactions.
Abigail King, another junior, told Texas Monthly that students are wary of their peers acting as judges. In her opinion, the cost of the measure is “reduced trust in the student body and turning students against each other.”
Jackson Jeffcoat, a student serving on the CCC, contended that sacrificing some liberties is necessary to keep the university functioning during the pandemic. He noted that the court is “more educational than punitive,” as penalties range from writing a letter of apology to completing a research paper or rendering community service.
“Whenever we hear that a student is feeling like another student’s behavior is endangering them or the college environment, we want to address that and make sure people feel safe on campus,” Jeffcoat said.
The CCC is likely to continue as Rice University has one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates among colleges in Texas. Enforcement of the rules is considered a key factor in having kept rates low among the university’s 7,500 students.