The Department of Public Safety broke up nine different parties near the USC campus during the first half of September, citing raucous and loud noise in most cases, according to Daily Crime and Fire Log reports.
Although DPS officials interrupted the gatherings due to noise-related complaints, the parties also pose COVID-19 concerns. With the pandemic impacting college campuses across the country, there are questions regarding how students are penalized after a complaint is made.
“These situations are all where someone will call DPS and complain. So we are responding in response to the complaint,” said David Carlisle, assistant chief at the administrative bureau of DPS. “But we are concerned about students not following those social distancing guidelines.”
Off-campus partying has continued since classes began, despite COVID-19 regulations issued by both the university and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. According to a Student Health Community Health Advisory, large in-person gatherings are a likely factor in COVID-19 spread.
Mayor Eric Garcetti reinitiated some restrictions on public gatherings in the city of Los Angeles from earlier this year on July 16. He urged residents to minimize contact with others, highlighting that the disease can also be transmitted by asymptomatic people, according to a public order for the city of Los Angeles.
USC complied with the city’s health and safety protocols by limiting social gatherings and events. In a recent email to USC students, Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer for USC Student Health, emphasized the importance of COVID-19 prevention methods. These include wearing a face covering, washing hands, keeping a safe distance, avoiding sharing respiratory droplets, cleaning common surfaces frequently, closing off common areas and not permitting outside visitors into one’s home.
Van Orman also highly encouraged weekly “Pop Testing” among students living in USC Housing and private off-campus residences to keep asymptomatic cases from spreading the virus.
Upon receiving complaints about off-campus gatherings, DPS typically responds by reporting the student to USC Student Affairs.
“We’re going to take a report, and we’re going to forward that information and identify the people who generally are uncooperative. And I can say right now that’s been very few,” Carlisle said. “We pass that on to a student accountability group through Student Affairs, and they can counsel the person.”
Student accountability then determines if the person or group charged was in compliance with the university’s guidelines and whether there will be any further disciplinary action, Carlisle said.
“This is designed to get on top of behaviors that could be threatening to our ability to have the university open,” said Winston Crisp, USC’s vice president for student affairs, in an interview with Annenberg Media. “It’s not designed primarily as a standard of conduct process as much as it is our way of trying to respond to issues around compliance with the public health needs, so that we can protect the health and safety of the community.”
28th Street, otherwise known as The Row, where many of USC’s fraternity and sorority houses are located, is described by Carlisle as “the center for social life here at the university.” While DPS does monitor The Row, Carlisle said that the response to a gathering on 28th Street is generally the same as in other locations.
“We can identify responsible leaders in those Greek organizations and address them as being responsible for the social events that occurred on their property,” he continued.
John Milton, a sophomore at USC living in the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house, said the organization has a risk manager who monitors the actions of those living in the house. Milton said he is more likely to face disciplinary consequences from within his fraternity community than from DPS.
“I don’t really think [DPS is] punishing us… I think any punishment comes within our own fraternity and our risk man,” Milton said.
COVID-19 safety protocols apply to all types of gatherings, beyond partying.
Ntsang McCormick, a junior living in an off-campus residence, commented on a large gathering that was held for a student who passed away a few months ago.
“DPS showed up and raided the party and people said that they were being really aggressive about it and the cops came, which is understandable with a super large gathering. But it was also a memorial for someone,” McCormick said. “But at the same time, it is a global pandemic.”
As DPS continues to monitor gatherings around campus, many students say that as long as the university and county guidelines are respected, interactions with DPS are avoidable.
“If you follow the guidelines, I don’t see why DPS would be showing up in the first place. They don’t really just come to places without a reason,” McCormick said.
COVID-19 continues to affect the South Los Angeles community and South Central’s residents are being disproportionately affected by the virus. As visitors in the area, USC students are highly discouraged from gathering in large groups, which increases the risk of transmission to community members and demographics who are more vulnerable and delays any possibility of a swift return to campus life.
“We all want the university and the community to get back to normal operations, and the only way that’s gonna happen is if we see a drop in these COVID cases,” Carlisle said. “So that’s the goal. We certainly understand students wanting to gather and socialize, but they have to do it in smaller groups and in socially responsible ways.”