Emails have since been sent to students to rectify the allegations and withdraw the conduct charges, according to University Spokesperson Brian Clark.
Some students were left feeling frustrated by the error. “I knew I was not going to be suspended because I know that I was not in Providence then, but I’m still very shaken that Brown would accidentally threaten to suspend students so haphazardly,” Nathaniel Ostrer ’21, who has been taking class from New York, wrote in a message to The Herald. Ostrer received both a Thursday email claiming he’d been in Providence and a more recent follow-up email, withdrawing his charges.
The emails, reviewed by The Herald, alleged that recipients had been in the Providence area between Sept. 14 and 21, and therefore had violated the Code of Student Conduct. Students were told that they could either accept responsibility for their violation or have a COVID-19 Dean’s Review Meeting.
If students accepted responsibility without a review meeting, they would have been placed on probation until Jan. 19, 2021, as well as be required to change their location of study, submit their Student Commitment to COVID-19 Community Health and Safety Requirements within 24 hours, provide their off-campus address and enroll in the University’s COVID-19 testing program.
The fact that a mistake like this could occur “doesn’t give me a lot of faith in the systems Brown has set up to fight COVID-19” Ostrer wrote.
Lev Simon ’22, who said he is currently living with some other Brown students in another state, thought he might have received the initial email because he changed his status to remote later than most students, or that it had something to do with an order he placed at the Brown Bookstore. Simon said his housemates did not receive this email.
When he received the initial letter he wasn’t afraid of probation; instead, Simon said, “I just wish this kind of hadn’t ruined my day and distracted me from my classes.”
In a follow-up email sent to Simon from Associate Dean Kristen Wolfe and reviewed by The Herald, Wolfe wrote that the charges against Simon had been withdrawn, his case had been deleted from their database and he was not expected to take any further in response to their Thursday letter.
“We understand that the letter you received likely caused confusion and anxiety,” she wrote. “We apologize sincerely for this error and its impact on you.”
According to Clark, students “were identified based on a range of factors, including, for example, indications of having accessed buildings or facilities on our campus directly, having accessed private university electronic services or secure networks from the Providence area, and/or reports from other community members.”
Over the summer, students were asked to fill out a Fall 2020 Location of Study form indicating whether they planned to study on campus, off campus in the Providence area, remotely, as a commuter or in housing at the Rhode Island School of Design. “If you chose ‘remote’ as your location of study, you are affirming that you have no intention to visit the campus or reside in the Providence area,” according to an FAQ from the Office of Residential Life. Visiting campus “is a violation of the Code of Student Conduct.”
On Thursday, President Christina Paxson P’19 also sent a community-wide email, asking students living in Providence but registered under a remote status to come forward and enroll in the University’s testing program, The Herald previously reported.
“I am very concerned about reports that a number of students who have signed up for ‘remote status’ … have actually returned to the area and are living in apartments around campus,” Paxson wrote. These students “pose a danger to the entire community and could undermine everyone’s efforts to have a healthy and successful semester,” she added.
“If you are one of these students, please let us know you are here,” Paxson wrote. She also urged other students who may know of peers violating the conditions of their remote status to encourage those classmates to come forward.