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Northeastern University Dismisses 11 Students For Breaking Social Distancing Rules

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Eleven first-year students at Northeastern University in Boston have already been dismissed after staff discovered them gathered in one room in violation of the school's social distancing rules. They will not have their tuition refunded, which is more than $36,000 per student, but they will have a chance to appeal this decision. The students were all part of a special study abroad program at the university but, because of the pandemic, is now taking place in Boston. With us now to talk about the campus reaction to all this is Deanna Schwartz. She's managing editor of The Huntington News, which is Northeastern's student newspaper.

Welcome.

DEANNA SCHWARTZ: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: OK. So classes do not officially begin until tomorrow, but I'm curious - has the student body already been reacting to this news?

SCHWARTZ: Yeah. Friday night, Saturday morning, it started going viral on social media because The Boston Globe shared their article about the situation, and their tweet included that 36,000 number, which I think is what really set people off here.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, among the students that you have heard from who disagree with the way these 11 students were disciplined, what bothers people most about this situation? Is it the suspension? Is it the loss of tuition money, or is it something else?

SCHWARTZ: I mean, this has really divided the community and created a really tense environment on campus. I think most students believe the university was just to suspend the students but are outraged that Northeastern won't refund their tuition. Some of the dismissed students could be low-income and will be burdened by this cost for a long time. People are also bringing up that, you know, since this program that they were in - it doesn't give students any financial aid - these students are most likely not paying for their own tuition, and it's unfair for the students' parents to have to shoulder the cost of their child's mistakes.

CHANG: Well, what about students who actually support the university's actions in this case? Have you heard from them? What do they say?

SCHWARTZ: Yeah, there's plenty of students who agree with the university on this. They think it was perfectly fair, citing that, you know, we all signed a contract, and we were warned plenty of times of the rules. And these students put the entire community and city at risk. I mean, especially with freshmen - they sent out a really harsh warning letter to students who voted yes, that they would party on an Instagram poll. And they're also looking out for the community.

CHANG: What about parents? Have they been weighing in throughout this?

SCHWARTZ: Yeah. Parents of Northeastern students are overwhelmingly pleased with this. They're thrilled with Northeastern for coming down strong. And I think they're really - are operating with the belief that, you know, their child is perfect. Their child would never be the one caught in a situation like this.

CHANG: Well, schools like Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina have already had to abruptly switch to online learning after COVID outbreaks happened on their campuses. Are you worried that that could happen at Northeastern as well?

SCHWARTZ: I think the university is going to do whatever it takes to stay with classes in person for as long as they can, but I think it really depends on how the numbers look.

CHANG: Well, what about you? I mean, ultimately, how safe do you feel as a student on this campus when it comes to COVID? I mean, do consequences like you're witnessing now make you feel that the university is really taking all of this quite seriously?

SCHWARTZ: I feel like the consequences that were just imposed on those students - it kind of goes both ways because in one way, you know, it's really scared students out of misbehaving. But I think it's also really harmed contact tracing.

CHANG: What do you mean?

SCHWARTZ: I think students who went to a party are going to lie if they're called for contact tracing. No one wants to admit they were at a party and risk suspension with no refund. The university has said they'll offer underage drinking amnesty to help with contact tracing, but they haven't offered any reprieve from this suspension risk.

CHANG: Deanna Schwartz is the managing editor of The Huntington News at Northeastern University in Boston.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.