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Athletics department, Office of Student Conduct hosted mandatory COVID-19 town halls for student-athletes

Though initial notice of mandatory attendance cited athlete COVID-19 violations, Hayes emphasized that September meetings were educational

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, November 9, 2020
A goalpost fallen down on a green field

The University Office of Student Conduct and Athletics department stress that recent, mandatory town halls for student athletes regarding COVID-19 safety precautions were not disciplinary, but precautionary.

Nearly two months ago, following multiple reports of athletes violating Brown and Rhode Island guidelines on the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Athletics held two mandatory town halls for all student-athletes studying in the Providence area Sept. 17.

“It has come to our attention that there have been clusters of gatherings in which social distancing, wearing masks, maintaining groups under 15 and other health and safety practices were not observed,” wrote the Office of Student Conduct & Community Standards in a Sept. 14 letter sent to student-athletes which was reviewed by The Herald. “Most of the reports we have received have implicated a variety of athletics teams.” 

In response to these reports, the OSCCS wrote in the letter, “Being a student-athlete is a significant honor but also a weighty responsibility. Although it may seem unfair, you are expected to be a role model for the campus community because of your heightened visibility.”

Many student-athletes were alarmed by the email and expressed concern about the implications of these possible violations. Co-captain of the women’s soccer team Sydney Cummings ’21 said that her initial reaction was fear. “I think I can speak for every sports team when I say we all just want to be able to play and practice, and … hearing about possible violations puts all that in jeopardy,” Cummings said. 

Claudia Wong ’21, a member of the women’s swimming and diving team, said she and others expected the meeting to be the University administration “chastising” or “scaring” athletes because of the violations cited in the initial email.

Although this email regarding the town halls seemed to focus on possible violations of COVID-19 guidelines by student-athletes, Director of Athletics Jack Hayes told The Herald that the primary intention was to offer another opportunity to educate athletes rather than reprimand them. Hayes said that the town halls should not be seen as a penalty for any students or teams.

“We took it upon ourselves to meet with students in the fall just to go through (Brown and Rhode Island COVID-19) protocols … to make certain that students comply with those so that we can keep the campus and the Providence area as safe as possible and do our best to try to control the situation,” Hayes said.

Women’s basketball Head Coach Monique LeBlanc said the town hall was an important tool for educating athletes, who are expected to be examples on campus of the safest practices during the pandemic. The purpose of the town hall was “to reiterate that we want to be leaders on campus, and we want to make sure we’re doing things the right way,” LeBlanc said.

Each town hall consisted of a review of both University and Rhode Island rules by members of the Athletics Department and the OSCCS, as well as a discussion with medical professionals who spoke on best practices during COVID-19 and the science behind the guidelines, according to Cummings and Justin Chiang ’21, a member of the coed sailing team. The town halls also included a Q&A portion.

Despite the educational intent of the town hall, Cummings said she was frustrated by the tone of the email. It is easy for athletes to be singled out in discussions about compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, she said, given that many athletes live together off-campus and share daily lives that are deeply intertwined. 

But Chiang said that whether or not there were violations by athletes, he believes the town hall was well-intentioned. In the end, he said, it was a good way to make sure every athlete was on the same page about COVID-19 guidelines, especially given that the town halls were scheduled around the same time that more students were moving back onto campus.

Cummings felt the focused town hall was important because it gave athletes an opportunity to ask questions such as when teams would be able to start playing together and how pods would be adjusted for athletes already living in large groups.

Chiang said he appreciated the message of the town hall. It was “reassuring just to know again that Brown is definitely super cautious and super cognizant of both trying to keep the community safe and trying to prevent any outbreaks on campus, while trying to maximize general student activity to some extent on campus,” Chiang said.

But Wong was slightly confused as to why the town hall was directed to athletes, given that the focus was not disciplinary and, thus, did not need to be limited to that subset of the student population. “Given the content of the meeting, I was surprised that it was only athletes because it seemed like the kind of thing that the entire campus would probably benefit from,” Wong said.

Overall, Cummings said that the women’s soccer team has been diligent in following protocols and guidelines so that they can responsibly practice and play.

Wong also said that her team has had several discussions on how to be responsible during the ongoing pandemic.

According to Chiang, the sailing team has stressed the importance of following guidelines and rules, and although his senior year on the team has not been normal, he still appreciates having the chance to train and interact with his teammates safely.

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