Students party at an off campus residence Thursday night.

Students party at an off-campus residence Thursday night. Credit: Sarah Szilagy | Campus Editor

As Ohio State gets closer to starting classes, the university has opened dozens of student conduct cases involving multiple students for violating off-campus gathering guidelines, which could lead to interim suspensions for the students.

Ohio State students caught at off-campus gatherings of more than 10 people will be immediately referred to the Office of Student Conduct, Melissa Shivers, vice president for student life, said in a universitywide email Friday. 

Besides hosting or attending off-campus parties or gatherings, university spokesperson Ben Johnson said that any violation of the Together as Buckeyes Pledge — such as refusing to wear a mask while on campus or not maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet from others — could be referred to Student Conduct.

“What we’re concerned about particularly today are people who are throwing parties off campus,” Johnson said.

The university did not report the exact number of Student Conduct cases, the number of students involved in the cases or where they occurred.

People who see gatherings that pose a health or safety risk should call local authorities. Johnson said to call the non-emergency phone number for University Police or Columbus Police Department or email the Office of Student Conduct.

Ohio’s current health orders recommend gatherings include no more than 10 people and people wear masks in public spaces indoors and when a distance of 6 feet cannot be maintained from others outdoors. There are also mask mandates in Columbus and in Franklin County.

Ohio State guidelines differ from state and local mandates. The university requires people to wear face masks on campus at all times indoors, unless in a private room. People must wear masks outdoors as well, even when they can keep a 6-foot distance from others. The university allows exceptions for exercise and eating.

Johnson said when a possible violation is reported to Student Conduct or police, authorities will arrive at the gathering.

“They will say, ‘We’re making a referral to Student Conduct, it would be in your best interest to disband this event right now,’” Johnson said.

Punishments also apply to student organizations if they host in-person meetings or other gatherings with more than 10 people, Johnson said. Organizations that are found in violation of the Pledge could have their university recognition and funding revoked.

The Office of Student Life has teams who are also monitoring the off-campus area and reporting individuals to Student Conduct.

“We have one shot at this — responding to what so many of you asked for: an on campus semester at Ohio State,” Shivers said. “For many, this could be their last semester as a student. For first year students, their first college experience at Ohio State. For some, this is where they find housing safety and food security. Don’t make intentional choices now that inherently challenge the future for so many members of our Buckeye family.”

Ohio State will begin classes Tuesday with 48 percent of sections online, 31 percent in person and 22 percent through “blended” or hybrid approaches according to university data as of last week. Other universities that have already begun classes have seen issues with clusters of COVID-19 being traced to off-campus parties. 

The University of North Carolina began classes Aug. 10 and transitioned to all online classes less than 10 days into the semester, according to their website. At the time of publication, they have had 415 positive student cases since Aug. 12. 

On Thursday, UNC System President Peter Hans issued a statement blaming off-campus students for the closure. 

“This hard work is being undermined by a very small number of students behaving irresponsibly off campus, which unfairly punishes the vast majority of their classmates who are following the rules,” Hans said. 

The University of Notre Dame also temporarily moved classes online for at least two weeks after its case count more than doubled within the span of one day; at the time of publication, they have had 336 confirmed cases since Aug. 3.  

North Carolina State decided to move its remaining in-person and hybrid courses online Thursday effective Monday, and Chancellor Randy Woodson said the school received reports of large off-campus parties that led to three identified COVID-19 clusters, according to the university’s website. Woodson also said that at least three Greek Life houses have been quarantined due to positive cases.