By Camille Furst, Len La Rocca and Lara Becker
Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editors
On Aug. 19, open containers and two kegs were sprawled across a parking lot. Music blared throughout the property and into the homes of neighbors. No cases were yet confirmed by the College.
On Aug. 21, a loud party without social distancing was taking place on Ewingville Road — just nine days away from the first off-campus case.
On Sept. 5, students were running up and down the street to a house party. Meanwhile, 53 off-campus cases were spreading through Ewing.
The parties have begun, and Covid-19 is the uninvited guest.
The Signal has obtained reports from the Ewing Police Department that connect members of various student organizations to off-campus gatherings since late August. The College has confirmed 89 cases of Covid-19 from students living off-campus since Aug. 25.
From the reports, members from Delta Tau Delta, Sigma Pi and Phi Kappa Psi have been confirmed to attend parties and gatherings in off-campus houses.
Members of the College and Ewing communities have suspected parties to be breeding grounds for the spread of the virus.
“Now I am aware that the college students know their responsibilities and they’re just choosing not to care,” said Eileen Walsh, a Ewing resident. “It becomes even more critical now as we are older and so are some of the neighbors, and now these transient college students are not following protocols and putting their neighbors at risk. It's unconscionable.”
The incidents were called in by Ewing residents and students from the College. Most of the calls regarded noise complaints and suspicion of parties, almost all of which involved students living in off-campus houses.
All instances involving students from the College took place within a five-minute drive from campus — in houses on Pennington, Ewingville and Federal City Roads.
Despite members of fraternities confirmed to have been involved, both men and women were at various gatherings in the Ewing area.
In most reports, the officers advised the students to reduce noise. In one instance, dated Aug. 19, an officer instructed the young adults to go indoors.
In an interview with The Signal, senior mechanical engineering major and President of Delta Tau Delta, Jonathan Vasquez, apologized to the Ewing community but doesn’t believe his fraternity is guilty of violating Covid-19 safety regulations.
“I don’t think we’re guilty in that aspect,” Vasquez said. “We were under the maximum capacity of the mandate that was made by the state. We weren’t in violation of anything in that aspect.”
The residence where the party took place houses 25 students, all but one of whom are members of Delta Tau Delta. The students living in the 14-bedroom building share common spaces such as the kitchen and living room.
“Not all of them made the smartest decisions on their part,” Vasquez said in regard to his fraternity brothers. “I do want to apologize for any inconveniences. Maybe this wasn’t the type of environment I had in mind.”
Christine Nye, the assistant director of Student Conduct, reached out to Vasquez following the incident with the police. Vasquez said that Delta Tau Delta wasn’t found in violation of any school or township regulations.
The president of Sigma Pi, junior marketing major Jack Fitzgerald, also commented to The Signal on the police reports. Sigma Pi is currently an organization unrecognized by the College. He said that most of the reports were a result of loud music and that the gatherings were well under the 250-person maximum limit for outdoor gatherings.
“My fraternity has made the utmost effort to comply with all social distancing and Covid-19 regulations,” Fitzgerald said.
Phi Kappa Psi, another organization unrecognized by the College, declined to comment.
The College administration responded to the recent outbreak through a series of emails informing students of the danger in large gatherings, but never explicitly stated the fact that parties are occurring.
In contrast to the call to action from Ewing residents, the Office of Student Conduct has not yet released detailed information regarding consequences for students partying aside from the state protocols. Crystel Maldonado, the director of Student Conduct and Off-Campus Services, said that consequences will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
If there is not enough information available on a student or organization’s behavior, a warning will be given.
However, students can legally follow the state’s mandates while going from party to party. Meanwhile, the College and members of the Ewing community argue whether it is unacceptable from a moral standpoint.
“I can’t tell somebody what is morally right or wrong. I think what we can do is give them the information,” Maldonado said. “These students are adults. They can make their own decisions and that's why, for us, it’s important to share the information. I don’t think it’s my place to say, ‘this is morally wrong.’”
The experience of some Ewing residents has led them to take a more definitive stance.
“During this pandemic, I lost my grandfather to Covid, my dad went through multiple rounds of chemo and I became a new mom,” said Lauren Wilkins, a Ewing resident. “I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my grandfather, hug my dad or introduce my son to friends or family. This pandemic has caused many of us to sacrifice and it’s time that the students living in our community do the same.”
Walsh also feels the encroachment of students from the College, now more than ever with the pandemic hitting her neighborhood.
“Thirty years of hard work and now that my husband and I are retired our community is becoming a college dorm,” she said.
With the classroom moving into a virtual setting, the majority of students stayed home to be near their families and protect themselves from the virus. All the while, their fellow classmates had a different idea.
With the future uncertain and upticks in cases looming, the unforgiving pandemic seems far from over.
“Stop being selfish. Admit the fact that you were wrong, and move on and learn from it,” said Tara Mild, a senior elementary education and English dual major. “This pandemic is greater than you, greater than me, and has a greater impact on the community that we’re involved in.”