Walking with the team that keeps students COVID compliant

ON A BRIGHT AFTERNOON early in the fall term, associate dean of students Amy Powell is taking a walk through a West Campus residential courtyard, and she sees three guys sharing one of the tables under a shelter for lunch.

“Hey, friends?” she calls. “If you’re done eating, can I ask you to put your masks back on?” Three masks go back on. There is at least a hint of eye-rolling, to be sure, but overall the guys just go along, doing what they know they’re supposed to do.

Part of the reason they know is the C-Team, which is why Powell is patrolling. That’s C as in compliance: compliance with all the rules and principles Duke has adopted in its effort to keep the campus open and as free of COVID-19 as possible. (Or maybe it’s C for caring, or COVID, or just because there’s already an A-Team for bonfires and a B-Team for protests; anyhow, C it is.)

Duke’s success in opening its campus has not come without planning, say Powell and other team members. With significant spread showing up at North Carolina’s public universities, staff and faculty recognized that many students are, after all, late teens and would be more likely to succeed with some gentle supervision.

The C-team provides that gentle supervision in the form of teams of staff volunteers, mostly from student services. They walk East and West Campus in pairs, looking for students not following Duke’s coronavirus guidelines: two students to a glider, keep that distance, “and if you’re done eating,” says team member Jim Hodges, director of conference and event services, “mask up.” There are shifts all day, from morning till midnight, with a pair walking each campus.

The team is just an extension of the policies of Duke United, the university coronavirus response that includes mask requirements, contact tracing, and required testing both before students arrived and regularly once on campus. Says Hodges, “Duke has chosen to take the path that’s hard.” Which means a lot of walking.

If you’re of a certain age, it’s impossible to see Powell or other C-Team members walking campus and scoping out students without thinking of Miss Grundy from the Archie comics, floating around a dance in the gym, frowning, making sure the kids don’t get involved in any of that dangerous hug dancing.

“You embrace it,” she says of the Miss Grundy role, laughing. “We know how you feel about it, but we’re here to make sure you stay here.” In fact, that’s the point. When the decision was made to open campus for the fall term, Powell says, faculty raised “a lot of questions about adult presence.” So being the nosey middle-school teacher has its benefits. In general, “I have been super impressed” at students’ cooperation, says Powell. “Even at night, when there are bigger crowds, they’re wearing masks.” And if they’re a little closer than they should be? “That’s when we have to intervene a little more.”

It’s not just frowny faces, though. Sometimes when C-Team members see people wearing masks and appropriately distancing, they distribute coupons for the library’s Perk or the Trinity Café on East Campus. They also share thank-you cards: “We see you!” the cards say. “THANK YOU for doing your part to keep the Duke Community safe.”

The team gets calls on occasion. One R.A. called the team, concerned about a video-game tournament in a dorm lounge; when the team arrived to check, all were keeping their distance and had masks on, so no worries— just a walk across campus for the C-Team. “I’m certainly getting my steps in,” Powell says. Students complain a bit, of course, but they complain about all the sterner measures. With the library requiring assigned seats and book reservations, students have said the security feels like Fort Knox. Powell is fine with that.

“If it’s Fort Knox,” she says, “they’re all right.”

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