Students selling negative saliva test samples on Snapchat.
Fraternity members threatening students for taking pictures of long bar lines.
People leaving quarantine and isolation dorms to pick up Doordash food orders and then socialize.
These were the events among the roughly 200 complaints sent to university officials in the latter part of the fall semester in 2020 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
Added to 400 earlier complaints from the first part of the semester, the latter batch continues to show that violations and unsafe behavior on the campus were more widespread than previously known and, in some cases, more outlandish.
By the end of the fall semester, 4,329 cases had been reported since August 17, one week before classes started, according to SHIELD testing data. As of March 3, there have been 6,179 cases since July 2020. Scientists for the university initially projected 700 cases at most by Thanksgiving, but said they did not factor in possible behavior such as large mask-less parties, avoiding contact tracers and breaking isolation or quarantine.
A review of the complaints, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by CU-CitizenAccess.org, showed that parties made up about 44% of nearly 600 complaints submitted through the University’s COVID-19 Enforcement Forms.
Reports of facial covering and social distancing guideline violations were the targets of 39% of the complaints, and quarantine or isolation violations made up 9%. The complaints were redacted partially to protect student privacy.
“How is this allowed when two students can’t even meet up for coffee without feeling guilty?” one report said, citing parties and lines at the campus bars “all day” on September 17.
Other complaints alleged partygoers and fraternity members would knowingly go out to a party or campus bars where someone, even themselves, had recently tested positive. Only 468 students were approved for testing exemptions in the fall.
Across all reports, there were around 270 unique locations of incidents across campus.
The complaint forms became available last summer and allowed members of the campus community to report behavior that violated university guidelines or potentially threatened the health of campus community members. The complaints included a written description and location, but photo and video attachments were not provided to CU-CitizenAccess.
More than 1,800 students received COVID-related discipline according to the university.
Greek Houses continued to be cited
Complaints made against fraternities, sororities and their activities made up 18% of all complaints. Acacia and Phi Kappa Psi were the top reported frats, and some reports alleged several frats held regular parties — sometimes daily.
At least eight Greek Houses were disciplined by the university last semester for COVID-related offenses.
“[Frat] had strippers at their rush event giving lap dances to potential new members,” one report alleged happened on August 31.
Alpha Chi Omega, a sorority, was reported because a group of members went to Green Street Cafe and refused to listen to patrons and staff when asked to use facial coverings, according to a complaint submitted on October 25.
Parties held at apartment buildings, however, were the top reported locations of noncompliance. Reports ranged from social media observations to reporters being threatened by partygoers in the middle of the street.
“But the host figured out what was going on and confronted me maskless from three feet away in the middle of the Illinois Street threatening, ‘I should punch your face in’,” one report alleged in late August. “He was joined by three male partying friends, who unmasked jointly, repeatedly and threateningly called me ‘you piece of shit’ and asked where I lived…”
One report details a “wild party going on next door” in an unknown residential area on October 10:
“Normally I wouldn’t bother, since this residence has covered the windows with black plastic and usually keeps their parties quiet and low key. However tonight, the volume is disturbingly loud. I heard screaming and shouting and thought someone could be in trouble, but as I listened more clearly I could hear the distinctive titular party chant ‘Y-M-C-A’…” the complaint stated.
Masks don’t “fit the vibe”
Complaints alleged a wide range of social consequences for reporting, gathering evidence and sometimes simply complying with guidelines.
“We were leaving the elevators in masks and when we stepped out of the elevator, there was a group of about 20 people, none of which were wearing masks. Upon seeing my roommate and I covering our mouths as we passed them, they all started coughing in our faces and harassing us yelling about covid and mocking us for protecting ourselves…” one report alleged on November 16.
University staff members worked to report alleged noncompliance throughout campus, including two reports about Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) buses. One report alleged university COVID testing staff frequently do not wear masks on the bus, and another wrote about maskless drivers.
“Please hop on the Green, the Yellow, etc. Talk to MTD bus drivers who quit because so many are riding the buses without masks and they are not allowed to tell such passengers that they can’t ride the bus without a mask,” the report said on October 18. “Putting up signs and having pre-recorded messages that say ‘Masks are expected on the bus’ has accomplished nothing. On a regular basis, I hear this recording play on the bus while the bus driver drives with no mask,” the complaint stated.
Bars were the top reported businesses for violating or not enforcing facial covering and social distancing guidelines. But outside of the long bar lines wrapping around the sidewalk, other businesses were reported for similar violations.
“[Evergreen Tobacco] management encourages student workers to not wear face coverings and social distance because it doesn’t ‘fit the vibe’,” one report alleged in late September.
Evergreen, located on Green Street on campus, has not yet responded to a request for comment. Nearly one month after the report, the business’s Yelp page updated to show a mask requirement and the store will provide a mask if a customer did not have one.
“She spit on my apartment doorknob amid this pandemic… she is harassing me and my roommates and is premeditating getting us in trouble,” another report alleged happened at a campus apartment on September 29.
One report expresses fear of retaliation: “I told [them] I wouldn’t report and am honestly scared what [they] would do if [they] found out I reported,” it said on October 29.
Four complaints were made against student athletes not wearing masks inside of buildings and even dodging door monitors. One report on September 8 at Huff Hall alleged athletes often used unmonitored doors and detailed two students not listening when asked to comply with mask rules:
“They both shrugged me off and laughed about it as they exited the building,” the report said. “I have also seen many athletes entering the building through doors other than those that have a wellness person stationed by them. I am not sure how they are entering, I have seen them enter from a far and they dash away quickly to the locker rooms before anything can be said.”
Quarantine and testing rules alleged to have been broken — even by staff
A student who was being housed in an isolation dorm was seen by several people taking the elevator and picking up a Doordash order, which a resident assistant confirmed was a violation.
CU-CitizenAccess previously reported how public health administrators struggled to get students to comply with guidelines, including isolation and contact tracing. New reports show students willingly engaging in unsafe behavior even after testing positive:
“This guy came into my apartment with 3-4 others around 5 am… he had a fever and was coughing but he did not mention that to any of us,” the report said on November 7. “2 days after, he tested positive. He really was trying to ignore that he was sick and needed to stay by himself alone. Instead, he came to my apartment, putting me in danger.”
In-person classes were also impacted by noncompliance, with reports ranging from students being in classrooms they aren’t authorized to use to professors encouraging students to not use facial coverings.
“[Student] attended a large wedding with no face masks or social distancing this past weekend (October 24). On Wednesday, she returned to the law building for in person class… Other students left the classroom she was in when they found out where she had been, so her presence and lack of quarantining has affected the learning environment for multiple other students,” the report said.
Outside of the classroom, staff faced opposition from within their own members:
“The staff member entered the Foreign Languages Building, left, and entered again without a mask,” the report said on September 16. “He is approved for off-site work and not supposed to work on campus. He has stated opposition to testing and to mask wearing…”
The Siebel Center was the top reported campus building, followed by the Illini Union Hotel, Scott Hall and Oglesby Hall.
Opinions about COVID enforcement on campus made up 3% of complaint forms. One report pointed out a pattern among the students that led to noncompliance.
“It’s a kind of phenomenon. Most students who stay on campus intentionally update a wrong current address that is not in Illinois. So, they don’t have to do COVID test twice a week,” the report alleged on November 5. “By comparing the login address of the student account, you will find out people who login to their Compass website here but their current address is not here… I think it’s necessary for our university to research the validity of current addresses.”
Some claim the university wasn’t doing enough, while others criticized the administration for “reducing the college experience”.
“Most undergrads on this campus, paying full tuition for what was expected to be a hybrid in-person semester, do not have a single in person class,” the complaint stated on October 27. “These same students aren’t at risk themselves, or already have antibodies… It is accurate to say that covid-19 has brainwashed this campus… This university began the semester at the forefront of testing… Yet, this same University has reduced the UIUC college experience from all that it is to YouTube lectures and fearful adolescents.”
Social media assisted in reporting noncompliance in the community
A frozen yogurt social gathering was widely reported to the university, using the organization’s Instagram handle and a post as evidence, which was corroborated by eyewitness accounts.
Social media played a role in revealing behavior on campus during the fall semester, including previously-reported photo and video evidence of Halloween parties while cases rose on campus.
Snapchat and Tik Tok turned out to be other useful resources for the university community, and were specifically used in 23 complaints, including one where a student was selling negative saliva test samples on their Snapchat story.
“This is an upcoming Halloween party this Saturday (it’s a house crawl) with 3 different locations. A lot of people have been promoting it and selling wristbands for this party,” one complaint said, attaching a screenshot.
Tinder was used to report one student who allegedly traveled in early September.
“I see this girl I matched with on [Tinder] 115 miles away,” the complaint stated. “She is an undergrad… and is supposedly in [redacted].”
Even social media influencers from outside the community were reported for causing disturbances and engaging in unsafe behavior. After YouTube group the Nelk Boys hosted a party at Illinois State University, the prank channel’s group came to the University of Illinois and allegedly harassed a student.
“I was approached by one of the boys in [NELK] as he was trying to prank me,” the report said on September 9. “He was standing close to me without a mask and I was eating so I asked him twice to stand away from me and put on a mask and he did not comply even when I threatened to call the police since I guess they didn’t want to ruin the prank. It wasn’t until I pulled out my phone to call the police that he walked away.”
Salem Isaf also contributed to this story.