As the University of Michigan continues to navigate changing dynamics on campus due to COVID-19, the Wolverine Culture of Care is moving into its next phase of educating the campus community regarding best practices for stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

The Wolverine Culture of Care is an initiative aimed at providing education to the campus community on health-promoting behaviors and promoting collective responsibility and positive social norms related to the virus.

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Based on broad feedback from a number of groups on campus and the need to continually evolve to account for changing circumstances related to the virus, the push to promote a number of successful elements and resources related to the initiative will continue and, in some cases, intensify.

Changes related to the return of Big Ten Conference football also will require a shift in the university’s educational efforts related to responsible gatherings. 

“In the first few weeks of the academic year, we’ve seen a number of efforts to provide the safest and healthiest semester possible go well,” said Martino Harmon, vice president for student life. “We’ve also recognized and been made aware of parts of our plan that needed to be changed or reconsidered.”

The university’s COVID Reporting Line and voluntary address and phone registry for students living off-campus are among the elements that students and campus leaders have said are going well and will continue.

Since going live Aug. 20, 322 calls have been placed to the COVID Reporting Line with the majority of calls coming from concerned students hoping to hold their peers more accountable for following new health and safety guidelines. A number of calls to the line also included students asking questions to ensure they were meeting expectations set forth by the university and state and local officials.

With nearly 3,000 students already sharing their off-campus addresses and phone numbers with the university, increasing the number of students who elect to share information could limit the involvement of law enforcement related to student gatherings.

“The voluntary registry has worked well,” said Laura Blake Jones, dean of students. “When we have a student’s phone number and address, we’re able to contact that student or residence directly and encourage them to voluntarily address any potential issues that are being reported.”

Jones said students who have been contacted directly via phone and text have generally responded positively to the outreach. She also said in many instances, the initial calls to the reporting line address instances in which a caller perceives non-compliance with a guideline, but is mistaken.

“The regular reminders of the importance of wearing face coverings and gathering size limitations appear to have made a significant impact on the number and size of events we’re seeing near campus,” said Jones.

“We are really pleased to see that most students have been limiting their social gatherings to small groups in their yards and front porches. Sustaining this will allow us to continue to stem the spread of the virus on campus.”

Starting immediately, the university will discontinue the use of students, faculty and staff to canvas surrounding campus neighborhoods through the Michigan Ambassadors program.

While the responsibilities of the university’s Division of Public Safety and Security and the Ann Arbor Police Department related to keeping all citizens safe in the midst of a global pandemic are unchanged, the university has redefined its collaboration with the agencies as it relates to COVID-19.

“DPSS and AAPD are long-standing partners and will continue to be,” said Jones.

COVID-19 related citations issued by DPSS and AAPD to individual students living off campus are shared with the Office of Student Conflict Resolution. Repeat addresses and some group accountability efforts are enacted from the Dean of Students Office.

Referrals are also made to group accountability processes within Fraternity and Sorority Life and the Center for Campus Involvement. The information is shared in an effort to hold those students accountable through the university’s official channels.

Students who receive multiple calls from the COVID Reporting Line also are issued warning letters from the Dean of Students Office and may be referred to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution making them subject to disciplinary action.

With the first football weekend set to take place Oct. 23-24, and as the weather changes in Michigan, the need to address large indoor gatherings is paramount for the health and well-being of the entire community.

In addition to the university’s Stay in the Blue efforts — a harm-reduction campaign designed to help students make healthy decisions related to alcohol use ­— the season brings to the forefront a continued, targeted push to remind students to appropriately wear their face coverings, limit indoor gatherings, and remain socially distant whenever possible.

To help with contact tracing and to remind students of the city of Ann Arbor’s order limiting indoor and outdoor gathering sizes to 10 and 25 people, respectively, the university created a downloadable party guest list and checklist to assist in making small group gatherings as safe as possible. Hosts of any gathering are asked to keep the guestlist for up to three weeks to assist with contact tracing.

“We will continue to work with student leaders and other constituency groups on campus to promote student-led accountability initiatives and other strategic measures that will support the next phase the Wolverine Culture of Care,” said Harmon.

As the university continues to navigate operational changes due to the virus, the entire campus community — including all faculty, staff and students — is encouraged to take care of maize and blue by committing to caring for themselves and to being respectful of their impact on the health of others.

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