Peer-Led Punishment for Flouting Pandemic Rules

Inside Higher Education

Mel Xiao, a Rice University senior who helps investigate and adjudicate COVID-19 rule violations by other students, doesn’t mind if she’s viewed by her peers as “big brother” on campus.

Xiao is one of 11 students at Rice who served as a judge on the COVID Community Court, or CCC, a student-led judiciary that looks into reports of students neglecting to wear masks or socially distance, or who are hosting visitors in their dorm rooms, which are violations of the university’s Culture of Care Agreement for the 2020-21 academic year. A three-judge panel hears and investigates each low-level COVID-19-related violation and doles out “educational” punishments, such as writing an apology letter or hanging up posters that promote public health measures in their dorm, said Emily Garza, director of student judicial programs at Rice.

While Xiao and Garza believe the student-on-student disciplinary process is more effective than sending minor violations directly to university officials, Xiao has heard some criticism by students on social media. Students say they don’t want to be a “snitch” and report violations by friends, or argue that the CCC isn’t a “big deal” since it only handles violations that occur on campus, she said. There are students who view the CCC as an extra set of eyes, waiting for them to slip up so they can be reprimanded. And some Rice alumni have weighed in on social media to consider the idea of a student court and question the need for it, while others have made fun of the notion of students policing each other and turning each other in. Xiao said she’s been thinking about these negative perceptions of the student court as she considers applying to be a judge again in the spring.

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