In an effort to preempt a COVID-19 outbreak among students this semester, Northeastern University on Friday sent stern e-mails to 115 freshmen — and their parents — warning them against partying.
The e-mails were sent to students who responded to a poll posted on social media by another student that asked if students planned to party when they got to campus.
“It has been brought to our attention that on a social media platform you have indicated an intent to gather in large groups and engage in parties while disrespecting numerous government and university restrictions,” the letter began.
“This is unacceptable, will not be tolerated, and presents a danger to your health and the health of our community,” it said.
Northeastern is one of several large colleges in Greater Boston, along with Boston College, Boston University, and Tufts University, that has begun to bring students back to campus for the fall semester, which will be taught partially online and partially in person.
The schools are under enormous pressure to ensure that students do not cause outbreaks of the virus in Boston, where the case count is still relatively low.
Several city councilors and neighbors who live around the schools have urged the colleges to conduct classes all online instead, but the schools have pushed forward with their reopening plans. Elsewhere in the country, college parties have begun to lead to outbreaks and shutdowns, like at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
To prevent a similar debacle, Northeastern is also setting up a confidential tip line for reporting off-campus behavior that does not follow health and safety guidelines, according to a university spokeswoman. She said school employees will “redouble” their efforts to monitor and respond to “unacceptable student behavior” in the neighborhoods around the campus.
The letter that Northeastern sent to the freshmen and their parents said that as a result of indicating on social media that they plan to attend large parties, the freshmen will have to provide a written response to the letter, stating that they will abide by the Northeastern code of conduct.
Students who do not comply with the terms outlined in the letter will have their admissions rescinded, the letter said.
“It is our hope that you will acknowledge the harmful impact your behavior has had on our community and commit instead to becoming a productive and responsible participant in our efforts to Protect the Pack, have a safe semester and a healthy learning experience,” said the letter, signed by Madeleine Estabrook, senior vice chancellor for student affairs.
In a phone interview Friday, Estabrook said a student who ran the Instagram account that conducted the poll offered to give up the names of those who had responded that they did plan to party.
She said the university contacted those students and their parents to impress upon them the gravity of the situation.
"I want people to understand and the university wants our community to understand that we are taking it extremely seriously," she said in a phone interview.
A few Northeastern students are already living on campus, but most will begin to move in August 29, she said. Many off-campus students are already in Boston. So far, Estabrook said, off-campus students have been complying with the testing regimen.
One question on the minds of students and those who live around the school is what might force Northeastern to once again close its campus.
Estabrook said there is no single metric that would trigger a return to all-remote classes. She said the school will be monitoring a number of factors including the number of positive cases, the health of front-line workers at the university, the number of cases in the city of Boston, government regulations, and advice from epidemiologists.
“There is not one trigger that will be the trigger that says we have to go remote,” she said.