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By Tommy Gagliano

I know it’s been said a million times already, but the world we’re living in right now is totally bizarre. Riots have become frequent to the point that they’re barely shocking anymore, we’re approaching a presidential election between an angry game show host and a guy that cannot form a coherent sentence, and, of course, there’s that pesky COVID-19 pandemic. What’s up with that virus anyway? Is it over? Is it still a threat? Was it ever a threat? I’ve been told the answer to all of these questions is yes. I’ve also been told the answer to all of these questions is no. It really depends which “expert” you feel like listening to.

Regardless of the actual seriousness of the novel coronavirus, heavy restrictions are still in place throughout the country, including here at Binghamton University. As I’m sure the majority of readers are aware, most courses are being taught through various “distance learning” methods, there are rules about where students can and cannot sit for those that do have classes in person, all students that live on campus were tested as part of the move-in process, periodic testing will be done on all students, both on and off campus, to monitor the spread of the virus among the student body, and there’s a whole shitload of regulations regarding what students are and are not permitted to do, including in their free time. Normally, a University telling their students that they can’t do perfectly legal things (especially if these things are done off campus) would be seen as an egregious misuse of power and violation of a student’s rights and liberties, but, as I said earlier, the world we’re living in right now is totally bizarre.

Activities that are banned by the University include, but are not limited to: entering a building on campus without wearing a mask, inviting a person into a residential building that they do not live in, walking on the wrong side of the hallway, hosting or attending an in-person club meeting (unless granted an exception), or gathering in groups larger than ten in residential building. I was unable to find any rules anywhere regarding gathering sizes in places other than residence halls, but the current limit set by New York State is 50 people. This is interesting, considering the way students have reacted to small gatherings in Binghamton.

Recently the Binghamton University subreddit (r/BinghamtonUniversity) has been riddled with posts about exposing and reporting students for attending gatherings. This is a complete turnaround from the normal attitude of Binghamton students, who, for better or for worse, can typically be relied upon to keep quiet about underage drinking, drug use and transactions, pirated textbooks, and, unfortunately, sexual assault (see “Greek Life” in our “ABCs of Binghamton” from last issue). Apparently hanging out with friends is where they draw the line, though, as the top post seemingly every day is about an “illegal” gathering.

On September 3rd, u/Any_Yam3432 posted a video of a group of students getting out of a van. It is unclear how many students are involved, but given the capacity of most vans, the number couldn’t be too large. The post received over 100 upvotes, which essentially means that 100 more people “liked” the post than “disliked” it. Comments include “This is absolutely irresponsible and disgusting. I hope these students get suspended,” “This is the most stupid shit I’ve seen in a while,” “We need to identify these people. They need to be held accountable,” and “Idk if you’ve done this already, but this looks like something to be reported to me.” The final of those four comments currently has 50 upvotes.

Two days later, on September 5th, the same Reddit user posted a video of eleven people hanging out in a parking lot by College in the Woods. The video suggests that the gathering was brief, as 20 seconds into the recording the individuals dispersed. The comments were condescending, with one user posting “please tell me you reported them,” to which the original poster affirmed that he or she did. Also on September 5th, u/anxietyastronaut posted an image of red Solo cups and other trash in the nature preserve with the title “Nature preserve this morning. Disappointing to see people breaking university rules and harming environment.” The post received over 300 upvotes. Leaving trash behind in the nature preserve is an absolutely shitty thing to do, but it’s bothersome that “breaking university rules” and having a gathering of likely no more than ten people (given the amount of garbage in the photo) is seen as an equally upsetting offense.

The phenomenon is evidenced not only by individual instances on Reddit, but by a recent poll on My Binghamton. The poll asked “How likely are you to report a COVID-19 non-compliance,” and, as of the morning of September 10th, it has over 2400 responses. 42.4% of respondents indicated that they would be “very likely” to report, and 35.9% said that they would “maybe” report. Only 21.7% of respondents said that they would be “not likely” to report a COVID-19 non-compliance. The poll is obviously not perfect, with the lack of options between “very likely” and “maybe” being an obvious flaw, as well as the use of a very broad term in “non-compliance.” Nevertheless, it clearly shows a shift in attitude towards rule-breaking among Binghamton students, with nearly 80% of all poll respondents stating that they would at least consider reporting a student for violating the COVID-19 guidelines.

When it comes to reporting others for breaking rules, typically the decision to report or not to report comes down to the decision-maker’s understanding of the morality of the situation. If the decision-maker perceives the incident as not morally negative, they will usually choose not to report. This is common for violations like marijuana use and underage drinking, which are commonly viewed as “victimless crimes.” If the decision-maker perceives the incident as morally negative, they will usually choose to report. Violations like theft, battery, and sexual assault (except in fraternities) usually fall into this category. If we assume that this is true, it would suggest that most Binghamton students see gathering in small groups as morally unacceptable. Presumably, the reasoning for this is that they see gatherings as dangerous, and as a threat to public health. In some situations they may be right, but in the three scenarios outlined above, there is very little evidence that that is the case.

In all three posts, the evidence suggests that the gatherings were small—no more than 15 people. The evidence also suggests that all three gatherings were purely for social purposes. Logically, then, it would be safe to assume that if one were to have a small gathering for social purposes, they would limit that gathering to their closest friends. It is likely that people frequently spend time with their closest friends, and in college they often live with them. If one person spends a lot of time with another person, especially if the two live together, then it is likely that they already swap germs with each other. To finish up this line of logic, then, in all three situations, it is highly unlikely that the gatherings increased infection risk at all, since the people involved probably already spent a lot of time with one another prior to the gathering, and intend to do so again after the gathering.

For some reason, the majority of students on the Binghamton University subreddit are unable to comprehend this concept. In all likelihood, many of those upvoting or calling for action to be taken against the “exposed” students participate in similar gatherings on a regular basis. There is no difference between what the students being blasted online are doing and having your friends over, or going out to dinner with them, or hanging out with them in any other capacity. Hell, even living with a large group of people carries the same amount of risk. The difference between an acceptable and unacceptable gathering for a lot of students seems to be the presence or absence of alcohol. This could be a result of much of the discourse on the topic prominently referring to “parties” and “partying.” Whatever the reason, it is apparently obvious that no one cares about a group of friends hanging out outside at noon, but roll the clock forward twelve hours and add Roddy Ricch and a 30-rack and everyone loses their mind.

The fact that reporting students for socializing has become normalized, and that the reaction to doing so is to applaud the reporter, is, quite frankly, ridiculous. I can understand if students are concerned about massive 200-person parties downtown where people are packed in like sardines, but that isn’t what’s happening in these cases. Large gatherings are dangerous not because people are close together, but because people are coming into contact with others that they haven’t previously interacted with. The goal should not be to limit gatherings, but to limit frequent contact with new people. I worked at a summer camp during the summer, as a member of the “Leadership Team” responsible for planning and executing all camp activities and operations. When developing our COVID policies, our focus was not on keeping campers within the same groups from getting too close to one another, but rather on keeping different groups apart. Campers within the same group were inevitably going to swap germs simply because of the amount of time they spend together, but if we could keep each group separate, we would be able to contain the spread to only one group if a camper were to become infected. The same principle applies here; the emphasis should not be on limiting the types of activities students can engage in, but rather on limiting the number of different people that they engage in those activities with. A gathering of ten people doesn’t increase the risk of infection if those ten people already come into contact with each other on a regular basis.

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