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- Off Campus Fraternity Party Leads to COVID-19 Concerns - September 12, 2020
On Saturday, Aug. 22, just one week from the start of the semester, a party was held at an NJIT affiliated fraternity house. Time-stamped photographs reveal the party was held at Kappa Xi Kappa’s fraternity house on Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard.
NJIT Police responded to a noise complaint at the party on Saturday night, and the compliant was resolved. However, due to the layout of the house, officers did not see how many individuals were in the house at the time. The NJIT Police Department later received video evidence from inside the house that between 30 and 50 people were present with no social distancing guidelines. This automatically violated New Jersey Executive Order No. 173, which was in effect at the time, which limited indoor gatherings to 25% capacity and an absolute maximum limit of 25 people.
A combination of evidence and confession to the party from the fraternity culminated in the NJIT Police issuing summons to two responsible parties on Sunday, Aug. 23.
One summons was issued to the president of the fraternity for violation of the executive order of the State of New Jersey, with the capacity to face criminal charges. Three summonses were issued to the party organizer, who was indicted for ordinances for loud music, disturbances and disorderly house. The party organizer has been placed on suspension by NJIT. Additionally, Kappa Xi Kappa has been suspended from any recruitment or social activities by NJIT for the Fall 2020 semester.
The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life states that despite their expectations for fraternities and sororities to continue with their philanthropy work, they “expect all of their organizations to follow all university and New Jersey State directives including no social gatherings.” The Office of Student Life and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life have been actively communicating guidelines through emails and individual emails with all chapter presidents.
The Kappa Xi Kappa fraternity has declined to comment on the situation.
However, representing fraternity life, Stephen Kurilla, a senior Chemistry student and President of both the Interfraternity Council as well as fraternity Psi Upsilon, explained that he might have expected one group to host a public party at NJIT, whether one of the social fraternities or one of the sports teams. “Kappa Xi Kappa has been made an example. Now we know nobody is joking around… I kind of explained to the other fraternities at that point, at the end of the day, we are a civilian organization. If we were to have parties, we would be risking something like having a casualty rate, which is talking military terms. It’s kind of insane when you think about it, when we’re just students. I think going forward, we won’t be dealing with anything like this ever again.”
Concerns regarding jurisdiction over parties held by NJIT students in off-campus housing have also been brought up. However, Chief Joseph Marswillo of Public Safety and NJIT Police explained that general patrol already extends around a half mile off campus, which has slowly increased over the past seven years. NJIT Police already patrols University Centre and Society Hills and is prepared to respond to any call they receive. They will be paying even more care to Society Hills given that more students have signed leases there this year, according to Marswillo. “We’ve even been in talks about how to approach social distancing issues or party-related issues from the general public as well, because obviously, we won’t turn a blind eye to someone just because they are not from NJIT,” said Marswillo.
Public Safety, the Dean of Students Office and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life actively encourage reports from students or faculty especially due to concerns regarding COVID-19 this semester. Public Safety has contact information through phone and email clearly marked on their website, as well as a link for anonymous tips. Additionally, the Dean of Students office provides a COVID-19 Incident Report Form for reporting specific instances of COVID-19 violations noted on campus. (Links available by the following QR Codes.)
Of course, the hope for all NJIT parties is that students and faculty will adhere to guidelines without the need for reporting mechanisms. The Dean of Students Office and Public Safety recently put together a Student Ambassadors Program, composed of around 23 emergency medical technicians and community service officers from NJIT’s First Aid Squad that can help remind and set an example for students on campus for following COVID-19 guidelines.
“It’s always education and awareness first. Enforcement should be the last result.” Public Safety’s hope is that having Student Ambassadors circulating campus and setting an example will be effective communication tools since it involves student-to-student interactions. “We’ve always been community-oriented,” said Marswillo.
“We are already seeing cooperation from our students. Since the incident was reported by many people, we know that our students are holding each other accountable. Our Interfraternity Council has met several times and they have pledged to hold each other accountable,” the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life commented.
For example, Kurilla explained that Psi Upsilon has “put in many stopgaps at [their] house to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” including temperature checkers, a mandatory logbook to monitor all movement and contacts coming in and out of the house, limits to one guest and moving all social events online. Additionally, since fraternity housing is not monitored or has guidelines set by NJIT officials, Kurilla and all other presidents of fraternities have weekly discussions surrounding implementation of guidelines to manage their own houses safely.
“We’re not going to get through this together if we keep breaking the rules,” Kurilla said. “It does suck. Do I want to hang out with my friends? Do I want to get the whole brotherhood together in the living room to just hang out and watch a movie and drink a beer? Totally, but we can’t do that… this isn’t going to end unless everyone hunkers down and deals with the suck for a little bit.”
“When it comes down to it, communication and cooperation is going to be at the front line to fix any issue we see. Because we can’t be everywhere at once. But everyone else in the community can be everywhere,” said Kevin Kesselman, Deputy Chief of NJIT Public Safety.