Depending on which side of TikTok you’re on, your “For You” page may be filled with white teens dancing in their mansions, people acting out mafia POVs or the surreal, distorted videos that populate Deep TikTok. But while you’re scrolling through your preferred content with your Zoom lecture playing in the background, you may also come across videos documenting the lives of college students across the country as they adjust to their new campus environments amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Many students have recorded themselves moving into their dorms, only to be moved back out with some real speed. This was the experience shared by students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which resulted in a whole slew of TikToks transitioning from decorated dorms to bare ones (instead of the classic other way around) after UNC was forced to revert to remote learning only a week into classes. Another viral trend spawned at New York University, where students showed off their less-than-satisfactory quarantine meals, which often ignored dietary restrictions that they had.
Others have taken to TikTok to expose fellow students who are not following social distancing guidelines set by the state or their schools. Parties and other large gatherings have been put on blast by students who do not want to get sent home because of the irresponsible actions of a few. Some students have come under fire for filming their own parties — and they even have the audacity to become angry or defensive when their comment sections are filled with comments such as, “I guess COVID is over,” with the typical clown emoji for added sarcastic flare.
While on a different platform, the Daily Trojan’s Instagram post showing students partying in off-campus housing was met with mixed reactions. Some condemned the partiers and others the publication, calling it “creepy,” “spying” and the “Daily Hall Monitor.”
It shouldn’t fall completely on students to regulate the behavior of their peers. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Cornell University assistant professor Karen Levy argued that peer surveillance shifts the blame of a potential outbreak from administrators, who were the ones who decided to open school in the first place, onto students who didn’t report instances of rule-breaking.
Yes, colleges shouldn’t have reopened in the first place, given that it was practically inevitable that some students would party if given the opportunity. That being said, the reality is that they have, and while some have cracked down by dishing out suspensions and even expulsions to students who fail to comply with safety measures, where colleges themselves have failed to strictly enforce rules, it may be up to students to hold their peers accountable.
Among the college students and social media influencers to be criticized for breaking social distancing rules was TikTok star Jessica Zhang — a freshman at Levy’s own Cornell University — who hopped on Snapchat during a party to say, “The people who slide up saying ‘you’re not social distancing’ are the ones that wouldn’t have been invited anyway.”
Cool kid alert, but it’s not edgy to disregard safety measures. If Zhang had contracted the virus, she may have been able to return home in relative peace. For some students, however, not being able to remain on campus has severe negative impacts on their ability to excel in school. Wi-Fi, technology devices and quiet spaces for attending classes and studying are among things that some students would not have access to if they were not on campus. Student partying also jeopardizes surrounding residential communities, for whom the city is their permanent home, not a temporary dorm.
Levy also wrote that having students report their own peers threatens social dynamics between students because it causes them to have to weigh being “branded with the stigma of being a ‘narc’” against “playing a role in preserving public health.” While this is an important consideration, the more important one might be that reporting parties to campus or city police may disproportionately affect students of color who might be involved. It will likely be difficult for students to decide whether or not to report safety and health concerns to institutions that have frankly been doing the opposite of keeping people safe.
This is not a clear-cut issue. For reasons stated above, it is necessary to exercise care in reporting students. It may become even more blurry when social media is involved. The internet can be a scary place; coronavirus partiers may get bashed beyond their imagining on social media, even if they had attended without much consideration. This article does not condone bullying on the internet because it can have lasting consequences as grave as the virus itself. No one should become a social pariah, be pushed to hurt themselves or have the rest of their lives ruined for attending a party even during the pandemic if — like many college students — they just haven’t thought too deeply about it.
However, the time for light consideration has certainly passed. It is not at all new information that partying is endangering others. Gathering in large numbers without proper precautions has been discouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government (although perhaps not strongly enough), schools and individuals for over six months.
So, before you party, consider the fact that you could be exposing yourself and others to the virus. Before you party, consider that someone who was not even there could die because of your reckless actions and impulsive decisions. Before you party, consider that students will have their phones on them and that your face could end up on TikTok, branded with the single personality trait “COVID partier” — and that you will not be given the luxury to defend yourself.
And, given all these considerations, if you still party unapologetically, exposers deserve exposure. Wear a face mask or face the masses. Remember, these are people’s lives being put at risk.