OHIO | Ohio’s universities require pledges of personal responsibility to slow virus spread

By Maggie Prosser 

The Ohio Union at Ohio State University. Photo from Google Maps.

Ohio Capital Journal

As the school year swiftly approaches, Ohio’s universities are making a last-ditch effort to curb the spread of coronavirus by requiring students, and in some cases faculty, to sign personal pledges.

The Ohio State University, Ohio University, Miami University, the University of Cincinnati and Kent State University are requiring students sign “pledges” — as dubbed by many schools — before returning to campus. Failure to sign these pledges may result in disciplinary actions by select schools. 

The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University (OSU) will require all students and faculty to complete a 10-minute online training course, as well as sign the “Together As Buckeyes Pledge,” according to a press release. The online training course will cover expectations for daily health assessments, personal protection practices and hygiene. 

The “Together as Buckeyes Pledge” acknowledges students’ and faculties’ personal commitment to health and safety guidelines, including social distancing and requiring masks in public or communal spaces, according to the press release. The pledge is reportedly not a legal waiver. 

Students in violation of health and safety guidelines, or who do not complete the online training or sign the pledge, will only be permitted to take courses virtually and can not participate in university activities, according to a university document

In mid-June, OSU made national headlines when football players were asked to sign a waiver before returning to campus for voluntary summer workouts. By signing the “Buckeye Pledge,” players agreed to “help stop the spread of COVID-19” and accept that they “may be exposed to COVID-19.” In a statement, the university said the pledge was not a legally-binding document. 

OSU has yet to make a formal announcement about the status of its fall semester. 

Ohio University

Ohio University’s (OU) “OHIO Pledge” is a social contract where, by signing, students’ recognize the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and agree to follow public health regulations, both on and off campus. 

In mid-July, Athens County — home to OU — experienced a spike in coronavirus cases. In a tweet, Gov. Mike DeWine attributed the rise in cases to community spread and outbreaks at local bars. 

“Each member of our community is responsible for observing heightened health and safety precautions in the coming academic year,” OU President Duane Nellis said in a press release. “It is up to all of us to make smart choices and follow public health guidelines to help keep our university community safe, and to protect our own families and friends who may be outside of our campus community.”

The pledge includes language that would mandate students report exposure to COVID-19 to a designated person or office. Additionally, the pledge addresses cognitive biases associated with the coronavirus and resulting discriminatory behaviors. 

“We know that the virus is not a respecter of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, or physical ability,” the “OHIO Pledge” reads. “During this time of great uncertainty based on the COVID-19 pandemic, I will treat my peers, faculty, and staff with the respect every human being deserves and not promote, participate in, or allow my own bias to impede the access and opportunity of others in my community.” 

Students will be required to sign the “OHIO Pledge” before returning to campus. The university announced on Friday that classes will resume online for the first month of fall semester.

Miami University 

On Monday, Miami University (Miami) announced that its semester will begin online after previously planning for in-person classes. Students have until Aug. 21 to choose from three options: start remotely and phase into reopening, fully remote learning, or a gap year. 

Miami is the first large university in the state to announce it will be moving online for Fall 2020. 

Students must sign Miami’s “Pledge to the Community” to participate in any on-campus activity, including face-to-face instruction, dining and living in the residence halls. The pledge asserts that those returning to campus understand the risks of potential exposure to COVID-19. 

The pledge also includes clauses for getting a flu vaccination when available, reporting symptoms to Miami’s Student Health Service, and moving to a designated isolated or quarantine location if needed. 

Students who do not comply with the pledge may be referred to the Office of Community Standards, and disciplinary actions may include suspension or dismissal, according to the university’s “Healthy Together Plan.”

The University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati (UC) will welcome students back to campus at the end of August, according to its website, however instruction will be a hybrid of online and in-person classes. 

According to UC’s Activist Coalition — a community of progressive campus organizations who fight for local justice — a statement was posted to UC’s Catalyst, a student information system, asserting that the university would not refund students’ tuition or program fees if the modality of instruction changes. All enrolled students are required to sign and agree to this statement, according to the Activist Coalition. 

“With this, UC is forcing students to risk the value of their education, and to absorb a personal financial burden, as the institution continues its practices of wasteful misspending,” the group said on its Instagram. “We deserve better.” 

UC did not respond to a request for comment, and a formal “pledge” has not been released. 

Kent State University 

Kent State University (KSU) wants students to adhere to the “Flashes Safe Seven,” aptly named after KSU’s mascot, Flash the Golden Eagle. 

The “Flashes Safe Seven” are: wear a face covering, wash hands frequently, clean and sanitize surfaces frequently, social distancing, self-monitor symptoms, ask necessary questions, and demonstrate kindness and respect to others. 

Students are set to return to KSU’s campus this fall after a three-phase reopening plan.  

Maggie Prosser is a rising senior at Ohio University studying journalism and political science. She previously served as editor-in-chief of the award-winning student newspaper, The New Political. She also interned for The Columbus Dispatch’s Public Affairs desk and The Chautauquan Daily in western New York. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.

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