After a Clemson University student was brought before an ethics board based on an anonymous report alleging that she wasn’t wearing a mask, the student is now questioning the due process of the mask enforcement policy at the South Carolina university.
Clemson University had implemented an ethics hotline, an Office of Community and Ethical Standards board (OCES), and restrictive building access based on weekly PCR test results.
The Supreme Court of South Carolina had ruled in favor of allowing state colleges to impose mask mandates after a University of South Carolina (USC) professor filed a lawsuit against state Attorney General Alan Wilson and USC.
Before the lawsuit in July, Wilson had told the USC president that his mask mandate violated a state proviso.
According to Robert Kittle, communications director for the attorney general’s office, the intent behind the proviso related to college universities was to prevent mask mandates, but the wording allowed for a loophole.
“The proviso is basically saying, you can’t require only unvaccinated students to wear a mask, and so, what the college did was decide that everyone must wear a mask,” Kittle told The Epoch Times, adding that the ruling differs from a more recent case in which the court ruled that publicly funded K-12 schools can’t require masks.
A Student Summoned
By Aug. 17, Clemson’s mask mandate was in place, and later that month, one student found herself before the OCES board after having been reported “multiple times” for not wearing a mask.
The student, who contested the accusation, asked to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation.
She had received a letter from the OCES Board Director signed by Associate Dean Kris Hodge, requiring that she attend an OCES Zoom meeting to discuss the incident.
In the letter, the student was told that the OCES had been informed that she had violated the mask policy, which itself is a violation of the university’s student code of conduct directive regarding health and safety compliance.
“When I received this letter, I was very upset and scared, as its formality led me to believe the Zoom meeting would be akin to a hearing where I would have to defend myself to school administrators,” the student told The Epoch Times. “Something was going on my record. What amplified my anxiety was how our university’s code of conduct states reports to OCES require sufficient evidence for them to be taken seriously. This caused me to fear whoever had reported me had taken pictures or videos of me without my consent or knowledge—did I have some sort of passive-aggressive stalker?”
Though the student said Hodge was the only person in the meeting, and that the meeting was “just a warning,” she continued to be disturbed by the way the alleged infraction was handled.
According to the health directives, reporting another student is only to be a “last resort,” she said.
“So, whoever reported me jumped straight to the last resort without trying to communicate with me or the professor,” she said. “Had my mask slipped below my nose I would have been happy to comply with a request to fix it.”
In addition, the university is “wasting a lot of time and recourses” investigating issues with “no merit,” she said.
Because the reports can remain anonymous through a proxy email with no proof required, the student said, “Anyone wishing to harass a target has free rein to make the target’s life miserable” for what could be a “personal grievance or petty act of revenge.”
The student expressed her misgivings to Hodge during the meeting, she said, and Hodge responded, saying that the OCES would re-examine and change how it handles reports about mask violations—specifically ones reported multiple times—on a “case-by-case” basis.
However, the student said, “There’s a better way.”
“Overall, I feel Clemson is respectful to common sense, personal freedoms, and freedoms of speech,” she said. “We are not required to be vaccinated, which is greatly appreciated. I do not wish to cause Clemson or Ms. Hodges any undue embarrassment or harsh criticism—but rather to hopefully point out how minor incidents could be more reasonably handled, thereby causing less stress for everyone all around.”
Masking has become a politicized mandate relying on fear, which in turn, she said, brings out people who are “eager to use it as a means of control.”
“Places of education have been thrust into this politicized arena as well—facts be damned,” she said.
Tiger STEPS Toward Absolution
The OCES has a program called Tiger STEPS (Tiger Students Taking Educational Preventive Steps), which is designed, according to its website, “to allow Clemson University students to resolve minor violations” through “several mediums, including in-class activities” and “personal reflection.”
After a violation, such as not wearing a mask, a student has the option to enroll in the $75 class that ends with a personal reflection paper.
According to Philip Sikes, communications director for student affairs for Clemson, based on COVID-19 trends in the community, Clemson currently requires masks in all its buildings through Oct. 8.
“Masks were shown in models to have a significant impact on curbing the spread of the virus and correspondingly enhances the university’s ability to stay in-person,” Sikes told The Epoch Times. “Clemson will continue to review trends in the community and based on the data will modify its strategy accordingly.”
Negative weekly PCR saliva tests are required for clearance status through the Clemson Computing and Information Technology’s phone app—my.Clemson—that is updated with each test result, and “potential disciplinary measures for non-compliance” are handled by the OCES.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Another student who also wished to remain unidentified said he’s known of two people who were called before the board by using what he called a “snitch hotline,” adding that it could be that the students are being targeted for their Republican political ideologies.
“You shouldn’t be able to report someone without any evidence, leaving you guilty until proven innocent, because they are just going to warn you,” he said. “A student says you aren’t wearing a mask, so we are going to bring you in front of this big bad board and scare you. That is honestly the most stupidity I’ve ever seen.”