As students enter their fourth week of classes and on-campus move-ins finally come to a close, it’s safe to say that the second semester has officially begun for Virginia Tech students. However, as the semester gets rolling, another aspect of campus life has begun to erupt on campus: unmasked, large gatherings of students that go against Gov. Northam's COVID-19 preventative guidelines.
Over the weekend of Jan. 23 through the 24, the Blacksburg Police Department tracked down over 10 parties on campus, referring over 30 students to the Virginia Tech Student Conduct office. With the last move-in time slot for on-campus residents landing on Jan. 24, this was the first weekend that the majority of Tech students were back in Blacksburg.
“We did have a surge in parties and gatherings over the first few weeks, which was anticipated since many students have been away from each other since before Thanksgiving,” said Dean of Students Byron Hughes. “We have once again been holding students accountable for these gatherings — particularly the hosts of these events, with interim suspensions and/or housing revocations for on-campus students.”
In preparation for the highly anticipated spike in unmasked gatherings, Virginia Tech introduced a new "pod" network that allows students to enjoy a more relaxed environment with less risk of contracting COVID-19. This system requires students to register themselves and a small group of friends with the university, with the promise that they stay committed to limiting contact with those outside of their pod. Though seemingly daunting, the pod system comes with the ability to network and spend time with friends in a setting that eases up on COVID-19 rules.
“Regardless of where students live, the goal of the pod experience is smaller gatherings of friends — people that are consistently around each other similar to a family unit,” Hughes said. “If students are willing to stay within their pods and find social ways to interact, it will minimize the larger parties that violate public health guidelines.”
As of Feb. 2, 2021, pod registration has only been utilized by approximately 11.11% of students. In spite of the 849 students that have already gone through the entire registration process for their pod, there are still over 6,000 on-campus students that have yet to begin this undertaking. In response to this, the deadline for pod registration has been extended until an unknown date.
“Honestly, I think Virginia Tech students have gotten this right in so many ways — and in ways that students on other campuses have not,” Hughes said. “Know that making these decisions isn’t a choice to be with friends or not, but to be with friends in a healthy, safe, and fun way.”
Hughes has maintained his advocacy for the pod system despite its seemingly slow start this semester, along with his continuous endorsement of students making COVID-safe decisions throughout the academic year.
“I get it — I was once a college student and have been working with college students ever since,” Hughes said. “Even if you (and your friends) have had COVID, let’s not assume that you can’t continue to shed the virus and expose others as it stays within your system. If you haven’t had COVID, why get it?”