Responding to Potential Community Health Violations

Colgate’s reopening of campus can only succeed if we work together to keep one another safe.

Sometimes people encounter situations in which they see behavior that appears to violate Colgate’s Commitment to Community Health (student commitment | employee commitment). Addressing violations in a timely fashion is the best way to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Here, we offer guidelines for how to respond in these circumstances. 

Please note that Colgate community members, except for those whose positions require it, are not personally responsible for addressing violations. Violations can be reported to Colgate’s Reporting an Incident or Concern website. The commitment compliance manager will follow up accordingly. If the reporting party wishes to be notified of the report’s submission, they should indicate this on the form. Reporting parties should understand that federal student privacy laws preclude specific information about the resolution of the complaint.

If you witness a situation, we suggest assessing the potential violation first. No one should put themselves in a potentially hostile situation. If you feel comfortable and compelled to address it directly, below are some suggestions about how to take effective action. 

Assessing Potential Violations

It is important to have an accurate understanding of what is (or is not) permitted in every Gate of Reopening before assuming that any action or inaction violates Colgate’s Commitment to Community Health. Also keep in mind that these restrictions may evolve in response to scientific and public health updates, as well as revisions to New York State and local guidelines.

  1. Given that scientific consensus about the virus is evolving — as are different personal experiences and comfort with risk — community members have differing ideas of what is safe behavior. Although each of us has the right to construct our own ethical codes, we do not have the right to impose them upon other people. Before addressing anyone about a violation, be certain that it is a restriction that is mandated by the University or by state or local government. 
  2. Only members of the Colgate community, including current students, faculty, and staff, are subject to the requirements of the Commitment to Community Health and Gate restrictions, many of which are stricter than New York State or Madison County guidelines.
    1. This means that there will be people who are behaving in a perfectly legal manner but will appear to be in violation of the Colgate guidelines. For example, in Colgate’s Gate 1, students are permitted to visit downtown in groups of 4 or fewer. This same restriction obviously does not apply to local residents, even those in the same age range as Colgate students.
    2. If a member of the Colgate community, such as a current student, commits a violation off campus, the University may not have the legal authority to respond immediately. However, Colgate staff will follow up later as student behaviors off campus are still within the purview of the Student Code of Conduct and the Commitment to Community Health. In these off-campus situations, please contact local police or authorities for immediate action, but also report the incident to the Colgate’s Reporting an Incident or Concern website.
    3. If a person who is not currently a Colgate student, faculty, or staff member violates state or local health restrictions off campus, Colgate University does not have the authority to address the situation. Please contact local police or authorities.
  3. People in the same direct family unit, which include students who are roommates and people who live together in the same household, are permitted to spend time together without face coverings and without maintaining physical distance. 

What Campus Community Members Can Do About Potential Violations

The goal is always to support one another and to include others as part of an inclusive and supportive community, not to create divisions. This is both in line with Colgate’s values and the best way to encourage safer behavior, according to behavioral science findings. Community, connection, and relationships are some of the key ways to motivate people to follow community norms.

As mentioned above, no one is required to confront violations directly, unless it is part of their job description. However, if one feels compelled to address the situation, here are some helpful tips for a more successful outcome, based on the work of behavioral scientists.

Assume good intentions and lead with kindness and sympathy, rather than judgement or anger.

This approach helps reinforce the social norm of following health guidelines in this community. It also emphasizes the reality that we are all in this together and must serve and support each other.

  1. For example, if someone is not wearing a mask in a situation where masks are required, one might say, “Did you forget your mask? I have an extra one. I’ve been carrying around two ever since I forgot mine three times in a row going to the store.” 
  2. For example, if someone is standing within 6 feet of you, and there is no easy way for you to increase the distance, one might say, “ Do you mind backing up? I have to work with a lot of people, and I would hate to be a vector for the virus.

Embrace an attitude of compassion and grace when listening to their response.

The pandemic has exposed deep inequities in our society. Many people are carrying heavy burdens, emotionally, financially, physically and otherwise. According to the CDC, many Americans are struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Our goal is to help support each other through this difficult time.


Responding in kind to this type of situation leads to escalation and could potentially put you at risk. 

If possible, remind yourself not to take their reactions personally. Sometimes people react to their own fear, sadness, and anxiety by lashing out. Although their actions may be unacceptable, the emotions behind them are more understandable. If we can maintain our own empathy in these situations, we can protect our own emotional well-being. (Powell, 2020)

If you feel uncomfortable with confronting the person directly, or if they react defensively to your initial comments, bring the concern to the attention of a University faculty or staff member or other University official. This could include asking a faculty or staff member for help in the classroom or nonacademic space or a Community Leader (CL) for help within a residence hall.

Reportt to Colgate’s Reporting an Incident or Concern website. Please include as much detail as possible in order to facilitate follow-up about the violation. 

If a person who is not currently a Colgate student, faculty, or staff member does not adhere to state or local health restrictions off campus, Colgate University does not have the authority to address the behavior. Please contact local police or authorities instead. 

Reinforcing the Commitment to Community Health

Although it is important to address violations in order to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, it is equally, if not more important, to encourage people who are following the Commitment to Community Health and to support one another during this stressful and challenging time. Reinforcing our community’s ethics and norms motivates people to do the right thing, while also offering emotional support when many are struggling with their own fears and anxiety.

  1. Make explicit in your everyday conversations that you follow the Commitment to Community Health, and you expect others to do the same. (“Let’s meet at X location because we can sit 6 feet apart there.” “Let’s go find the hand sanitizer station or somewhere to wash our hands.”)
  2. Express your praise or gratitude when you see people practicing good public health. For example, if you are standing in line, and everyone is maintaining 6 feet distance, you might say to the person: “I’m so glad to live in a community where people understand the stakes of the pandemic and take it seriously.”
  3. Reinforce social norms in conversation by acknowledging mask-wearing and other health-related behaviors. (For example, “I really like your mask! What a cute pattern.”) 
  4. React with gratitude and apologies if someone calls out your own potential violations of the Commitment to Community Health. (“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was getting closer to you. Thanks for letting me know. One can’t be too careful right now!”)

Sanctions for Those Who Violate the Commitment to Community Health

When potential violations are reported to the Colgate’s Reporting an Incident or Concern website, the information will be assessed by Colgate’s commitment compliance manager. 

  1. For students unable or unwilling to meet the health expectations and Commitment to Community Health, the University has communicated its expectation that these students remain off campus to complete the semester remotely. If students do not adhere to the commitment once on campus, the University will remove their on-campus housing privileges and prohibit them from participating in any in-person, on-campus activities, including classes, or from accessing on-campus resources. 
    1. More information on potential sanctions for students is available in Colgate’s Commitment to Community Health documents (student commitment | employee commitment). 
  2. In cases where there is sufficient evidence that a violation has been committed, and that it is either egregious or indicative of a pattern of disregard for public health, the compliance manager may recommend sanctions, including referring the student to the University’s dean of student conduct. These sanctions could include suspension or expulsion depending on the nature of the violation.
  3. Sanctions for violations may not only affect the individual, but potentially also the entire community. Colgate’s ability to move from more restrictive Gates of Reopening to less restrictive Gates is predicated upon everyone in the community working together to prevent contagion and spread of SARS-CoV-2. Depending on the nature and scope of the violation, it could prevent progress to the next Gate, or even reversion to a more restrictive Gate. Student organizations, interest houses, Greek-letter chapter houses, or other organizations will be subject to the consequences of organizational misconduct as well as individual sanctions.