Wednesday, August 10, 2022

UNCW asks off-campus apartments to divulge names of students who gather, party in large groups

The University of North Carolina at Wilmington has asked 25 private apartment complexes that frequently house students to report the names of students found to be in violation of state Covid-19 gathering restrictions. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington has asked 25 private apartment complexes that frequently house students to report the names of students found to be in violation of state Covid-19 gathering restrictions. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — UNCW is enlisting 25 private apartment complexes in Wilmington to help monitor off-campus student activity and curb large gatherings outside campus boundaries. 

The university’s request has evoked privacy concerns as the advent of in-person classes approaches.

“The same safe social distancing practices you have implemented throughout the summer must now continue to be practiced on your properties,” Assistant Dean of Students Stephanie Ganser wrote in an Aug. 11 email to the private complexes last week.

In N.C.’s Phase 2 guidelines, Gov. Roy Cooper banned indoor gatherings of 10 or more people in enclosed spaces, as well as outdoor gatherings of 25 or more people in an enclosed outdoor space to limit the spread of Covid-19. This rule will be in effect until at least Sept. 11. (Rooms are counted as enclosed spaces; if an apartment had five rooms, there could be a party with 10 people in each of the rooms and the party would be lawful as long as no room housed more than 10 people at the same time.)

“If there is a violation on your property, please report the incident to the Office of the Dean of Students,” the UNCW letter said. “Include the names of any students attending or hosting such prohibited gatherings with the date, time, and description of the interaction. If an incident is reported to UNCW that any student violates these provisions, the matter will be reviewed and may result in the student(s) being charged with violating the Code of Student Life and processed through the campus conduct system.”

Continued refusal to comply with these guidelines can result in an individual or business being charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor, which is punishable by jail time of up to 60 days and a fine of up to $1,000.

Mike Walker, UNCW’s Dean of Students, said he hopes these properties, which cater largely to students, will assist the University in preventing large gatherings. And when and if parties do occur, he said he hopes the properties will crack down on violations. 

“First of all, those apartment complexes are expected to follow the law just like UNCW,” Walker said. “They could be held accountable through WPD for noncompliance, and I think that they know that.”

Walker said UNCW receives reports from the Wilmington Police Department regarding incidents in the campus area. He hopes that off-campus apartment complexes will provide information about parties and gatherings to the WPD, who would then forward that information to the University.

“Any off-campus situation, it’s hit or miss with: ‘Does WPD get the names?’ ‘Do they forward the names?’ But when we get that list, we cross-reference it to our enrollment database and any of those registered students, we engage them,” Walker said. 

Walker said UNCW will focus on educating the illicitly-partying students, but said that in some cases — like for repeat offenders — discipline through the University’s “Code of Student Life” could be necessary.

“We want them to take seriously the real danger that can come to themselves or others if they start to cohabitate in large masses in an unsafe way,” he said. “We’re going to educate, educate, educate, and then where we need to, we will take other measures.”

Will Apartments Play Along?

It remains unclear if complexes will comply with the university’s request.

Reached in-person Monday, several property managers of complexes contacted by the university either said they were not comfortable addressing the issue or redirected inquiries to corporate offices, which did not provide comment by press time.

Kaitlin Andrews is the community manager for Hawthorne Commons Apartments, located only a few minutes past the boundaries of campus.

She said she’s concerned about the privacy implications of the University’s request and isn’t sure how Hawthorne will communicate with UNCW when violations of gathering limits occur.

“That would be my big concern is, like, am I violating the residents’ privacy by giving their information to UNCW?” Andrews asked. “We have an expectation to protect our residents’ privacy. Just off first glance on reading this, I would think that we could probably let them know that there’s a violation, but regarding giving out anybody’s names or anything like that, I don’t know that we could give out that information to them.”

A spokesperson for the Wilmington Police Department said that on the next four Fridays and Saturdays, WPD will be assigning officers to conduct proactive patrols and respond to reports of large and loud parties.

“Due to the current COVID restrictions closing bars and nightclubs we are anticipating larger and more frequent than normal house parties in off-campus housing at UNCW,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. She added that WPD “would much prefer voluntary compliance rather than criminal charges,” and that criminal charges will only be brought “when all other avenues of gaining voluntary compliance were exhausted or have failed.”

UNCW’s first day of class is Wednesday, Aug. 19

According to a University spokesperson, approximately 15% of undergraduate classes will be taught via face-to-face instruction; 45% will be online-only; and the remaining 40% will be hybrid classes, a mixture of both online and in-person instruction.

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