by Abigail Streetman
Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam amended a previous executive order to ease up on COVID-19 restrictions, effective on April 1, allowing up to 50 people to gather for indoor events and up to 100 people to gather for outdoor events. However, Virginia Polytechnic Institute announced it would not follow these guidelines but maintain previous restrictions that limit indoor gathering to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 50 people.
Alyssa Jones, president of the Turning Point USA chapter at Virginia Tech, contacted her school following Northam’s announcement that he would ease COVID-19 restrictions.
In a March 23 email obtained by Campus Reform, Student Engagement and Campus Life told Jones that “after April 1st groups are permitted to have up to 50 people in attendance for indoor events.”
Then, on March 24, one day after Jones’ inquiry, Virginia Tech announced that it would not adopt Northam’s new guidelines. “On-campus gatherings outdoors must be 50 people or less, indoor gatherings must be 10 people or less,” stated the school’s announcement.
the university’s decision to maintain previous restrictions was in line with that of the city of Blacksburg, which decided shortly after the governor’s announcements that it would maintain a 50 person limit for both indoor and outdoor events.
On March 25, the school reached out to Jones and informed her that it had previously given her “misinformation.” Jones then reached out to Kristen Abell, Interim Director of Communications, to inquire about students attending events of 50 people or more outside of campus and the town of Blacksburg.
On March 26, Abell told Jones that students are allowed to attend events of any capacity “as long as whatever gathering you’re attending is following the guidelines for that area. Our restrictions are just limited to the Blacksburg/campus area.”
Virginia Tech Event Services also responded to Jones, stating in an email obtained by Campus Reform that “you are welcome to host your event outside of Virginia Tech’s Campus following the Blacksburg ordinance of 50 people capacity limit indoors and outdoors.”
The 10 person limit for in-person events on campus has been in place since November 16, in accordance with the governor’s previous order.
Ryan Glennon, Regional Field Coordinator for Campus Reform’s parent organization the Leadership Institute, explained that the event in question is supposed to be a speaker event put on by the TPUSA chapter as well as the Network of Enlightened Women chapter.
Glennon reached out to Lorraine Spaulding, paralegal for the town of Blacksburg, who confirmed that the town’s ordinance allows for a 50 person capacity at events both indoors and outdoors. While Virginia Tech has increased the number of people allowed at outdoor events, it has not increased the limit on indoor events since November.
Laken Land, president of the Network of Enlightened Women at Virginia Tech, told Campus Reform “I called Event Services at Virginia Tech to inquire about these changes and see how they would affect student organization activities on campus.”
Land explained that she “called on March 24,” and told the school that she is “the president of the Network of Enlightened Women” and “was interested in reserving an outdoor space on campus for a speaker event in mid to late April.” The school informed Land that “Virginia Tech was going by the new policy changes and would allow [the] organization to have a 100 person gathering outdoors on campus.”
“Two days later I was informed by a fellow conservative organization leader that Virginia Tech was choosing to go against the new guidelines and had reversed their social gathering numbers back to 10 indoors and 50 outdoors.” Land continued, “Irregardless of affiliation, why is the university not following guidelines set forth by the CDC, the state of Virginia, and the town of Blacksburg?”
Alyssa Jones explained to Campus Reform that “Virginia Tech is making it seem like they are following the Blacksburg town ordinance” but added that this is “misleading to students” because the university actually has different guidelines.
“Virginia Tech has received a lot of backlash from the community for their COVID-19 policies,” she stated, referencing an Instagram post from the school that received over 300 comments which were almost all negative.
A March 2 Instagram post from Virginia Tech announced a virtual commencement ceremony for spring 2021 graduates. Members of the university community were not satisfied with the school’s decision.
One student commented, “VT saying ‘invent the future’ but they can’t even figure out how to safely space out small masked groups of students in their many large outdoor spaces.” Hundreds of other comments piled on expressing the same negative emotions.
VT then announced on March 18 that it would be hosting “multiple in-person commencement ceremonies in Lane Stadium.”
According to the CDC’s guidelines, “the size of the event should be determined based on whether attendees from different households can stay at least 6 feet (2 arms length)” apart.
Virginia Tech has multiple venues available to host events, including a 550-seat auditorium and a “4,000+ square-foot” multipurpose room. According to a “space calculator,” if students used the multipurpose room they would be able to maintain 6 feet of social distancing with 111 guests in attendance.
Tim Sands, President of Virginia Tech, previously stated that “we will continue to follow guidance from state and national health officials and the governor’s office, adapting and updating our plan as needed.” The university is also planning to return to fully in-person learning during the next school year.
Campus Reform reached out to Sands for comment but he did not respond to the request.
– – –
Abigail Streetman is a Florida Campus Correspondent with Campus Reform. She is a second-year student at the University of Florida, majoring in Biology and minoring in Innovation. Abigail is the UF Turning Point USA secretary, Gainesville Activism Hub president, and a member of College Republicans, Network of Enlightened Women, and Young Americans for Liberty.
Photo “Ralph Northam” by Craig from Richmond, Virginia, and photo “Virginia Tech campus” by Virginia Tech.