Group gatherings at universities…exactly how small?

Harvard eases rule slightly while Northeastern gets tough

LIMITS ON GATHERINGS at local universities are suddenly a hot topic after Northeastern University dismissed 11 students on Friday for violating the campus’ coronavirus policy on parties and meet-ups.

The incoming freshmen were found together in a room at the Westin Hotel, where 818 students are staying in order to keep them further apart and comply with social distancing rules. Students had to sign off on the school’s no-party policy, which applies both on and off campus, in order to get housing. The residence hall living guide said no guests or visits are allowed in residential bed spaces, including students in adjoining rooms.

By violating Northeastern’s policies, the students were kicked out of school for the fall semester, given 24 hours to leave campus and get tested, and told their $36,500 in tuition would not be refunded.

“A lot of people feel for the students in that they still have to pay the tuition when the semester has not even started,” said student Kelly Chan to CNN. Undergraduate classes start today, September 9. The students were dismissed September 4.

While Northeastern is trying to send a message to its students about gatherings, Harvard University is slightly easing its rule on gatherings. According to the Harvard Crimson, administrators told students in a message they were being rewarded for adhering to socializing rules with a bump in the size of small groups, from two people to five. No disciplinary actions related to gatherings have been handed out so far by the university.

“Get to know your friends in groups of 2-5 people total,” the email said. “Socializing in small groups allows physical distance while still being able to hear each other and feel connected. We had previously recommended groups of only 2, but we are pleased to increase this to 2-5 given the success of our first few weeks on campus.”

All undergraduates who have received three negative coronavirus tests can socialize in groups of up to 10 while maintaining at least six feet of separation. While eating, they may gather in groups no larger than four students.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

At Emerson College, students in hotel housing were told they can only be in their rooms with assigned roommates, according to the Washington Post. Common areas at Emerson have capacity limits listed, with furniture removed to increase the number of people able to congregate but still maintain social distance. But that limit can vary from room to room.

The state guidelines are clear. Gov. Charlie Baker reduced the limit on outdoor gathering from 100 people to 50 in a single space. In smaller indoor spaces, there’s a limit of 25 percent of the area’s legal capacity, or eight people per 1,000 square feet.