Just as a tornado whisked Dorothy away in the classic Wizard of Ozmovie, the University of Alabama‘s Kappa DeltaFarm Party was suddenly taken away from University of Alabama students.
The last minute cancellation Farm Party may have had a sister or two of the sorority contemplating the song that Judy Garland sang in the Wizard of Oz. Was there ever such a mystical land where a Farm Party could take place in the midst of a worldwide Covid-19 pandemic?
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby Oh, somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue Clouds high over the rainbow, makes all your dreams come true, ooh
Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly Birds fly over the rainbow Why, oh why can’t I?
News about the party’s cancellation was reported throughout the world. The Daily Mail‘s Ariel Zilberwrote:
A spokesperson for the University of Alabama told The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening that ‘the sorority ended up canceling this event.’ The ‘farm party’ is an annual event held by the sorority, according to the Franklin Stove Blog, which was the first to report the city council vote last week.
The party first received international attention after the Daily Beast‘s Olivia Messer wrote a story “Alabama Sorority Gets Official Blessing for 600-Person Farm Party Just in Time for Holidays.” She called it a “Recipe for Disaster.”
Messer questioned the wisdom of the Tuscaloosa City Council‘s having approved the event:
“It’s appalling and dangerous,” 61-year-old radiation therapist Louise Manos told The Daily Beast, arguing that “the four members of the city council who voted in favor of this are sanctioning a superspreader event.”
As of Tuesday, there were 11,886 confirmed cumulative cases of COVID-19 in Tuscaloosa County, with 148 deaths. There were 76 new cases overnight, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and local reports indicate that infections of the virus have been rising in recent weeks.
But the city council voted last Tuesday to approve a special events retail license for the Kappa Delta Farm Party, to be held on Nov. 17 at a venue called Black Warrior Farms. The move—at a time when so-called Third Wave coronavirus cases are skyrocketing and holiday travel was expected to feed new clusters—befuddled everyone from locals to frontline medical workers to university employees.
“This will be worse because of the college students who will be… drinking and dancing,” the lifelong Tuscaloosa resident added. “These party-goers will be going home for Thanksgiving next week and possibly taking COVID home to elderly relatives.”
Messer, when contacted by the Franklin Stove Blog, said “I got a bunch of emails about the party, but one person sent over your blog as the most comprehensive publicly available information. Thanks for writing it.”
An article written by the Tuscaloosa News‘ Jason Morton reported that “residents both in and outside of Tuscaloosa questioned the decision-making that went into sanctioning the event, particularly that of the City Council that gave a final blessing for the party during its Nov. 10 meeting.”
A vestige of large alcohol-laden blowouts held at colleges before the coronavirus pandemic, the ‘Farm Party’-themed function was planned for about 600 attendees — split into three phases of 200 people each to reduce capacity, with time to sanitize the venue between each round.
Michael Innis-Jiménez, an American studies professor at the school and a member of the campus’s workers union, told The Post he was “stunned” such an event was allowed to take place. The alcohol license for the event was approved by the city council in a 4-to-2 vote, and the school said the sorority could proceed if it followed “extensive rules and safety guidelines.”
The story about the Farm Party found its way into such disparate media outlets as: the Intercontinental News, News For Finance, NewsColony, RokzFast, Newswep, DUK News, TopSpot 247, Daily Echoed, News & Gossips, and Dope Albums.
At the City Council meeting, Brandon Hanks of Downtown Entertainment LLC said, “I hope that you guys give a little bit of thought to this coming spring because these kids are going to be coming back, and I don’t know how long we can continue to keep them coming back if they don’t have a college experience to come back to.”
The City of Tuscaloosa at one time had been asked by the University of Alabama to close its bars because of concerns over the Coronavirus. Now the city’s occupancy based limits at bars allow as many as 150 patrons at a time. Some people have questioned how an outdoor event of 200 people would be worse than having 150 people indoors
With colleges throughout the nation either strictly limiting or outlawing gatherings of students, the question might be asked — “Why would the University of Alabama ever approve the Farm Party in the first place?” The party, with its 200 students at a time, exceeded its own guidelines for outdoor gatherings, which stated: “Outdoor events with more than 100 attendees are impermissible.”
Harvard University‘s rules for outdoor events on campus limit the number to 25 people, stipulating that “for indoor gatherings, participants should be limited to 10 and must also have no more than 8 people per 1000 sq feet accessible space.” Furthermore the school discouraged any indoor gatherings. These regulations are based on Center for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) guidance. According to an article by the United State Fire Administration, the radius of the 6 feet (which is recommended by the CDC for social distancing) is equal to approximately 113 square feet per person.
CNN‘s Leah Asmelashwrote about the unique problems associated with fraternal organizations on campus:
Were colleges ever going to crack down on Greek Life? No one has stopped issues — including sexual violence, hazing and racism — that have plagued those groups for years.
A huge part of it is money, as many big donors are insistent Greek Life continue. Attempts at cracking down on them are often met with backlash from wealthy alumni, putting universities in a bind.
Just what is the “college experience” that Brandon Hanks has referred to? Does it involve, as Meryl Kornfield wrote, “large alcohol-laden blowouts”?
Is merely going to football games, congregating with other students on campus or studying for an exam in the library not enough of a “college experience”? If students stop returning to the University because of a lack of a party atmosphere, Tuscaloosa‘s economy will be impacted. Will the mega-developments that constitute virtual mansions near the football stadium and the palatial fraternity and sorority houses, that Al.com‘s Ben Flanagan has written about, be emptied?
That is something that the City Council will have to weigh heavily when the next alcohol license for a large Greek gathering is proposed in T-Town.
The Tuscaloosa City Council had been unprepared for an item on its November 10, 2020 Council agenda. The Council had been called upon to approve a special events license for the field party, called the Farm Party, that the University of Alabama‘s Kappa Delta sorority has traditionally held each year. Sororities at the University of Alabama don’t have the facilities to stage big parties so their events must be off-campus.
In previous years it would have been a routine vote, but in 2020 the Covid pandemic had put the party, to be held on fourteen secluded acres of farmland, in the spotlight. Party goers would be transported the six miles from the University to Black Warrior Farms on several buses.
There is a cottage industry in T-Town that has served the University’s Greek community. It has involved everything from custom tee-shirts for parties to providing alcohol for events. In the case of the Farm Party it almost seemed as if the event was organized with a one-stop shopping service.
The application for the license was made by Downtown Entertainment LLC. Its registered agent is Brandon Hanks. He owns The Booth which is a bar that has been a popular hangout for Greeks and other students. The Booth was featured in a documentary on The Strip that Mark Hughes Cobb wrote about in the Tuscaloosa News.
The Farm Party was put together by Special Events Management whose Vice President is Casey Johnson. Special Events Management is affiliated with Music Garden, which lists itself as the “Southeast’s most recognized entertainment agency.”
Music Garden’s Tuscaloosa agent is Nick Wright. He is also the President of JNJ Apparel, which has the same address as Special Events Management. JNJ Apparel claims to offer “the largest collection of Greek Apparel, Gifts, Accessories, and more for over 100 Greek Sororities and Fraternities.” ( It can be found online at FindGreek.com ) Wright is also listed as the agent/organizer for Special Events Management by Open Corporates.
Both Brandon Hanks and Casey Johnson appeared before the Council to plead their case for the special license for the Farm Party.
The party was scheduled as an outdoor event where the body temperature of participants would be digitally scanned as a precaution. Katie Kerwin McCrimmon of UCHealth explained that “Studies show that at least 40-to-50% of people who test positive for COVID-19 have no symptoms.” Party goers who didn’t have a high temperature could well be super-spreaders at such an event.
The University of Alabama does not require sentinel testing of its students, although other schools have mandated testing for Covid infections. The University of Notre Dame, as CNN reporter Allen Kimwrote, is requiring all students to be tested. “Students who fail to appear for testing or leave the area without their results will not be able to register for the spring semester or receive a transcript.”
The University of Alabama has had social event guidelines that limit the size of gatherings. “Outdoor events with more than 100 attendees and indoor events with more than 50 attendees are impermissible, absent special approval from the Vice President of Student Life or their designee.” Plans for the Farm Party involved gatherings of 200 students.
At an event where a loud band is playing, the likelihood of mask wearing and social distancing is not very great. Also, when people are drinking they are more likely to exhibit risky behavior. The Farm Party may end up resembling the concert that took place at Rhythm and Brews that received national publicity because of unsafe behavior. However, what goes on at the farm may stay at the farm, unless there are social media posts.
During the Pre-Council meeting, when the license was first brought up, two City Council members expressed concern. Lee Busby and Eddie Pugh questioned whether approving the party would would be consistent with the city’s order on Covid safety. Busby raised the question of fairness to the businesses, who have observed occupancy limits and followed state Covid orders, if an event were to be allowed to exceed those limits.
Busby said, “Two or three months ago one of my concerns was, as the University has gone to great lengths to shut down its large party events, that we not end up in the position of simply reopening that box down at this end of University Boulevard or even further down. Do we have any idea of what kind of supervision over the site or inspection that an event like this has?”
Chief Compliance and Enforcement Officer Vincent Brown replied that charter buses were being used for transportation.
Busby said that that might end problems with drunk driving.
Brown replied, “We hope so. They don’t allow them outside of the event area. They have it cordoned off to make sure that no one comes in or leaves the event area. They have food and beverages and usually a band and they just party.”
Busby said, “I know.”
Council President Cynthia Almond asked, “I thought the University doesn’t allow big events, on or off campus?”
Brown replied, “That is what the University has said. Initially when officer Burkhalter [Code Enforcement Officer David Burkhalter] spoke to someone at the University, they said they were totally against it. The applicant then talked to the University and informed them that they’d been doing this event for the past two years. They haven’t had any issues or problems. Then the University said okay. They’d allow it. Officer Burkhalter has spoken to the University again but I have not spoken to him since. He hasn’t called me and said that the University says ‘no.’ So I’m assuming it’s still on.”
Busby said, “I’ll talk to the University some time this afternoon just to retake their temperature reading.”
“My broader concern is this is for a sorority group where, by definition, three quarters of the people there are under the legal age of drinking. And in an environment, where we are busting the TPD for them to check masks, social distancing and house parties, it gives me pause to ask some harder questions about events where we as the City Council are sanctioning it, with the city event license.”
Council member Eddie Pugh said that he agreed. “We’re monitoring bars and restaurants and we’ve done bailouts. Now we’re going to send a bunch of people right outside the city limits to do something we don’t allow in the city.”
Assistant City Attorney Scott Holmes said that the city had been unable to enforce the state safety orders that apply to social distancing. If the prohibition against unmasked people from different households being closer than six feet apart were enforced, that would not allow bars and restaurants to operate. Therefore, as a compromise, the city created occupancy limits. He said that the Alabama Beverage Control (ABC) had a “million different restrictions.” New ABC orders have now placed liability on the licensee for failure to enforce mask wearing. Formally citations could only be issued to individuals. In any event the Tuscaloosa Police Department would be the supervisory body regarding the state orders.
The following is an account of what transpired at the Council meeting, when the approval of the special license was considered. Although Mayor Walt Maddox‘s daughter was a member of Kappa Delta, he remained neutral and said that any decision would be up to the Council.
In the hours between the time the Pre-Council meeting occurred and the time of the Council meeting, Casey Johnson had spoken by phone to Council members.
Council member Lee Busby: “So Downtown Entertainment is the applicant? Then I assume that is Casey… You’re the one who called me. Your organization’s role is…?
Casey Johnson: I’m with Special Events Management. We are a vendor here in town that works with Greek organizations across the University campus. We help them plan their events. We work with about 25 venues in town. We also provide busing for them. We are an agent of a business called Music Garden which provides entertainment.
Council member Sonya McKinstry said that she was “very concerned about Covid. But I want to thank you for organizing it in a certain way…and breaking it down so that you have three different shifts…that you limit the numbers to to two hundred and that you’re going to be enforcing the masks…and the buses are going to be cleaned.
“So, hearing that, it gives me confidence that there are not going to be a thousand kids out there with no responsibility. So I want to thank you for taking all that into consideration and trying to comply.”
Casey Johnson: “I want to make sure that the Council understands that this is not a group of 600, 800 or a 1000 people at the event at one time. This will be done in shifts. So we will have essentially a six hour party. They will sign up for three different shifts. They will load up on a bus. They are not allowed to come in any other way to the venue.
“They will come in at one shift at a time. They will be there approximately for an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five minutes. There will not be more than 200 people at a time on the premise. In talking about the size of the venue…”
Brandon Hanks: “It’s fourteen acres, a large, large area.”
Casey Johnson: “And I think that’s something that has not been communicated. We are breaking this up. We are trying to do everything that is possible so that it will be a safe environment for them. we have a certain perimeter. They will not be able to leave that perimeter. Before they go on to the bus their temperature is taken digitally. And there are are things that Kappa Delta has put into place. they have to follow ADPH, the CDC, what the University has put in front of them and steps that their own national organization has made them take.
“So by doing that, we are doing everything that we can to break up those events while sanitizing and keeping things on the buses clean so when they are transported back and forth they are put into contact with something that we can’t take care of with quick sanitation.
Busby asked Hanks who would provide “supervisory oversight.”
Hanks: “I’m present at all of the functions that happen at Black Warrior Farm and we use multiple sources on the security side of it. There are about three local companies. We get them out of Birmingham as well. At the site, when they first come in, the sorority will have them check their ACT cards. They have to scan in make sure they’ve left the facility, have gotten to the facility and are allowed to be at the facility.
“At the same time, we’ll be checking IDs to see if they are above the age of 21. We also have our own staff of ten or more people to walk the perimeter and make sure no one is trying to leave the confines of the bicycle route we have set up. It’s pretty much that and the bar staff that is associated with the responsible vendor program.”
Hanks: “A lot of times they’re going to send somebody… send a monitor, so that as they come in, they will tell you, ‘No, she’s definitely not above 21’ and they’re ‘X’ed out and can’t come back in. We keep a continuous bus flow going out as well as going in. If somebody sees someone with a drink, it’s discarded and they’re put back on the bus. They’re headed back. They’re done.”
Busby: “How’s an event like this insured?”
Hanks: “We actually have not only the property owner, who has a full blanket policy, but we have a blanket policy through our provider, the Fitts Agency, for the alcohol side of it. And then every single vendor has its own blanket policy, covering everything from the Porta Potties, the security, the stage, the tent company…everybody has to have a full policy.
Busby asked City Attorney Glenda Webb if there was any “coordination between your office and the University in line with their policy?”
Webb: “At this point, we don’t have any outstanding issues.”
Busby: Your understanding is that this gathering is in compliance with the University student guidelines?
Johnson: “Yes sir. Everything that we did to provide information to Dr. Pope [Myron L. Pope, Vice President, Student Life Leadership Team] and to his office was gathered from all of us. It was a collective effort to answer all of the questions that were pertaining to this event. On the 28th of last month, it was requested by his office that Kappa Delta go ahead and put this on, because it had been approved for them to have this event.”
Busby: “Just an unofficial suggestion…given the current environment and the uncertainty…I think this being the first one we’ve had come before us, unlike previous years where they’re more or less routine, I think we would’ve been better served for you to do some early coordination prior to showing up here for a vote. It seems like a lot preparation went into this. I think earlier, informal coordination would better serve you in the current environment.”
Council member Eddie Pugh: “What do you do if you have rain or bad weather?”
Hanks: If it’s lightning, then it’s probably over and we would move it toi a later date. If it’s just rain, we have a large 40X100 foot tent and some smaller tents as well.
“I don’t believe we’ve ever had to cancel one due to weather but if there’s any lightning in the area, it’s done. It’s over. We’ll have to call it and move it down the road.”
Pugh: “We’ve never had these guidelines before from the state.”
Hanks: “No. Absolutely not.”
Pugh: “Will there be room to socially distance and do all that…”
Hanks: “With 200, yes. With the normal ones we’ve had in the past, we wouldn’t be able to get those kinds of numbers in the tent and also social distance.”
Council President Cynthia Almond: “I was just going to comment and say this is a difficult thing for me. Like Mr. Busby said, I know a lot of hard work and preparation has gone into this. Kids want to have a good time. I want to support that. But we have recently shut down businessses and not allowed this kind of activity. Today we’ve had a report that our numbers locally are increasing. We have more people in the hospital and more people with Covid than we’ve had in the last few weeks. That’s pretty concerning. And I have a real concern about the ability of these kids, these young adults, to socially distance. I don’t think they will. They won’t wear their masks or stay six feet apart while they’re at this party. I’ve got a real concern about that.
“And then they’re going to go home for Thanksgiving. That’s a safety and health concern that I have. I have a lot of friends who will be upset with me about that. So I won’t do it lightly.
“I do hope that, in the future, if you want to do things like this that we can coordinate more upfront in a way in which we can all feel comfortable.”
Hanks: “I understand that. Moving forward into the Spring we’re going to come back in the same boat that we’re now in. I feel that if you guys should actually take a look at it and see one of the parties. I think you can’t find a better facility, if we break it up, as far as being Covid friendly.
“Everything I’m doing right now with my businesses is outside and I’m still running into problems. Covid is basically hitting us at every single angle but we’re doing all we can. But I hope you guys give a little thought to this: Coming this Spring, the kids are going to be coming back and I don’t know how long we can continue to keep them coming back if they don’t have a college experience.”
Busby asked Tuscaloosa Police Department Deputy Chief Sebo Sanders about TPD’s role.
Busby: Do we normally make an appearance at one of these?
Sanders: “It all depends.”
Busby: “Because we discussed at the Pre-Council if it’s out of city limits…”
Sanders: “It’s in the police jurisdiction. It all depends on the traffic or complaints that we get coming in.”
McKinstry said she’d vote for the license but that she wasn’t happy. She said that she wished the University would have taken more responsibility and not have put the Council in a bad position. She said that she hoped the Council could “put some brakes on” any events in the future.
Johnson: “I’d like to speak to that.” She said that the parties were “extremely, extremely, extremely expensive.”
“They have put people back to work who have not been able to work for the past 6 or 7 months. We would have loved to have worked with you.”
Busby said that normally license approvals are routine.
Council member Kip Tyner said that he’d been at high school football games every Saturday night. He brought up the financial crisis he routinely mentions when any Covid restrictions are discussed.
Pugh said that, if the University had given the go ahead for the party, it was disappointing since the University had asked the city at one time that restaurants and bar be shut down. He said that the Council had not been kept updated on University policies, and that the University was “putting the load on us so that we would be the bad guys.”
Johnson: “The driving force is for these venues to be to able to be back in business–for these musicians to be able to have Christmas gifts for their kids. All of these things are going to be put in jeopardy.”
Mayor Walt Maddox said that he’d have the city staff reach out to Dr. Pope’s office to “see what scale and scope the city would be seeing in the future.”
The Council voted to approve the license for the November 17, 2020 event, with Busby and Almond casting the only no votes.
After the shooting death of nineteen year old Schuyler Bradley, included in the account by Emily Enfinger in the Tuscaloosa News, was: “‘There is no reason to believe that there is any ongoing threat to the Strip or University area as a result of this incident,’ said Violent Crimes Unit Capt. Jack Kennedy.”
The circumstances behind the tragic death of Bradley haven’t been published as yet in the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White, but Jeremy Hogan‘s article in The Bloomingtonian reported: “Bradley was visiting friends in Tuscaloosa to watch Saturday’s football game between Alabama and Georgia.”
In the Indiana Daily Student, Avraham Forrest gave an account of a Sunday Vigil that took place in Bloomington, Indiana, for the Indiana University student:
A vigil for late IU student Schuyler Bradley was held in Dunn Meadow on Sunday night. Bradley was shot early Friday morning in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and died later that day.
“This is the first place besides my home that I’ve been since he’s passed, and honestly I didn’t want to come,” Bradley’s mother Daphne Groff said “But I was sort of excited because I knew people were going to be here but I didn’t think it was going to be this many people.”
Much of Bradley’s family attended the event, mourning the late IU student along with other students. Ghiche Bradley, Schuyler’s older brother, said his late sibling was a good person and that people noticed it. He said his brother was a hard worker and loved his family.
“He loves hard,” Ghiche said. “He loves his friends, loves his family.”
Shootings have occurred on University Boulevard in the past. The Franklin Stove Blog‘s “Saturday Nights in T-Town” deals with the fighting by inebriated youth that has occurred.
In the case of nineteen year old Schuyler Bradley, the suspected shooter Zachary Profozich was a twenty-two year old man.
Stephen Dethragereported in the Tuscaloosa Thread that the “22-year-old accused offatally shooting a man near the Tuscaloosa Strip early Friday morning told several people that he believed his 19-year-old victim was reaching for a gun, according to new court documents filed this week.”
It has not been reported whether the use of alcohol was a factor in the death of Bradley but, considering the fact that the shooting occurred near thecampus bars on the Strip, it could well be assumed that drinking was involved in the argument that precipitated the shooting.
Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox, during a Pre-Council meeting on October 20, commented on the Tuscaloosa Police Department‘s experience during the Georgia/Alabama football weekend. He said, “We continue to see a disturbing number of young people, 21 and younger, being served and that is not going to be tolerated. we’ve got to insure that only 21 year-olds and older, that can be legally served, are being served, because we’ve had some very disturbing incidences that we feel that we’ve had more than in the past.”
Maddox has rarely, if at all, mentioned under-aged drinkers being served at bars during his Pre-Council briefings. Of course, the shooting of Bradley may not have been one of the “disturbing incidences” that provoked his comment.
The crackdown on under-aged drinking that the Maddox is seeking, which will involve additional training of bar personnel in recognizing fake IDs, may result in less risky behavior by minors.
Whether alcohol was involved in the death of Schuyler Bradley or not, other disturbing incidences that occurred on a football weekend may help prevent another such shooting in T-Town.
Strange days have found Tuscaloosa. On its Facebookpage the City of Tuscaloosa has a cover photo of a Halloween pumpkin carved with the letters “TUSCABOOSA.” Perhaps the scariest thing this Halloween in T-Town is the recent uptick in COVID-19 positives at the University of Alabama.
On September 24, 2020, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox’s executive order, limiting occupancy at bars, was loosened. On September 28th, the Alabama Beverage Control‘s operating hours for bars were extended past 11pm. By October 9th there were signs of increased COVID 19 infections at the University of Alabama, as reported by AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande.
The first University of Alabama home football game was played on October 3rd, 2020, in front of a greatly reduced number of 20,000 fans. The crowds that lined up to get into campus bars before and after the game did not all consist of ticket holders for the game played in Bryant-Denny Stadium. People were not wearing masks or socially distancing in and outside of the stadium. The impact of the first home game on spreading the Coronavirus has yet to be seen.
Slate‘s Molly Olmstead wrote about the importance of football at the University of Alabama. in her article “Pandemic Life at the Most Football-Mad College in America,” she observed:
To be a college student at Alabama this fall is to be, as the New York Times put it, a participant in a “high-stakes experiment.”
Parties are thought to be a major source of campus outbreaks, and the University of Alabama is the No. 1 party school in the nation. The state itself has a fairly high infection rate, which means students visiting home might return to campus with COVID. And football season has only just begun.
Students and faculty told me that as long as there was football and as long as there were students on campus, it was naive to expect better numbers. College football is more popular here than anywhere else in America, and fans traveled from all over the state to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first home game last weekend. According to reports from the game, roughly half of the students who attended took their masks off. And many who couldn’t land tickets headed to bars and restaurants.
Generations of Alabamians are drawn to the university because they’ve grown up watching Crimson Tide football on television. If you ask out-of-state and sometimes even international students why they chose to attend the 65th-ranked public school in America, many will tell you it’s because it seemed like a quintessentially Southern experience, with football and Greek life and the partying that comes with it. There are Alabamians who live their lives around football season, Alabamians for whom it is their one big annual expense.
“Football matters; it’s a huge factor in peoples’ lives,” said Christopher Lynn, an anthropology professor at the school. “Faculty are cynical about football, but they don’t understand how many students come to Alabama because they don’t know where they want to go to college, but they know it’s fun.”
One University of Alabama tradition that is not likely to be carried out in the same way, if at all, in 2020 is Trick-or-Treat on Sorority Row. Al.com‘s Ben Flanagan did an article last year about the event, where children in the community played games with and were given candy by sorority members from the Alabama Panhellenic Association, National Pan-Hellenic Council and the United Greek Council.
Throughout the country, with the Capstone‘s Greeks being no exception, sororities and fraternities have had high COVID-19 positives. CNN‘s Leah Asmelashexplained it in this way:
Across the country, entire sorority and fraternity houses have been put on lockdown following outbreaks of the virus, as partying and social gathering are baked into the very essence of that culture.
At the University of Washington, 15 of the 45 houses on Greek Row have cases of Covid-19, as according to NPR’s Eilis O’Neill.
A second, even larger coronavirus outbreak on the University of Washington’s Greek Row has onlookers worried that those cases could lead to infections in the broader community. And it’s raised questions about whether the school can control the spread of Covid.
O’Neill reported that social distancing has been difficult to maintain.
Right now, students are hearing they should stay six feet from everyone, including intimate partners. A Harvard epidemiologist says that’s not realistic, and it would be easier to control the spread if the school gave the students more reasonable guidelines.
The Danse Macabre was characterized by Bethany C. Gotschall, in her Atlas Obscuraarticle “A Brief History of the ‘Danse Macabre’,” as “a medieval allegory about the inevitability of death.” Survivors of the bubonic plague and the Hundred Year’s War staged elaborate All Souls’ Day parades. Gotschall wrote that “the macabre imagery” of the parades may have been a precursor to the Halloween holiday, with its “connections between life and death.” The “skeletons, skulls, and corpses” associated with Halloween were “reminiscent of those grim medieval dancers.”
Over 200,000 deaths, in the United States alone, have resulted from today’s version of the plague. Although arguably more benign than the Black Death, COVID-19 has ravaged the nation. According to TIME‘s Jeffrey Kluger, over 400,000 deaths will have been amassed by year’s end.
With its roots in medieval history, this year’s Halloween in T-Town may only be a sideshow to the community’s struggle with the ongoing horror of a pandemic that affects both young and old.
The lyrics to Elton John‘s song “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” describe what has often been a typical Saturday night in T-Town on football game days. Of course, things in 2020 are a little different than conditions in previous years. Due to the Coronavirus epidemic, attendance at Bryant-Denny Stadium has been cut to only about 20% of its typical 100,000 fans. The result is that smaller crowds have lined up on Saturday night near campus bars. Social distancing or mask wearing for most of the bar patrons has not been observed.
The Alabama Beverage Control Board had only just decided to lift restrictions on operating hours for bars on September 28th, 2020. The 11pm cutoff had been removed. APreported, “Originally intended to keep down crowds and encourage social distancing, the rule also reduced revenues and limited tips for servers. ABC Administrator Mac Gipson said the restriction on operating hours was a ‘business killer’ for bars.”
When such late hours of operation exist, combined with the presence of inebriated youth (many of whom are underaged drinkers), bar fights seem to be inevitable. Such a pattern has existed in T-Town for many years. During one National Championship game an underaged drinker who had been in a fight at Innisfree Irish Pub was pursued by Tuscaloosa Police officers, who drug him off the roof of a duplex that was two blocks away. Alabama football players have been involved in fights and even shot at bars, as detailed in a ESPN story. The business license of the High Tide bar was revoked after a shooting had occured on a Tuesday night, as WBRC‘s Joshua Gaunttreported. There are also endless accounts of late night and early morning marauding drunks in Tuscaloosa’s Historical District as Kelly Fitts‘s 2014 op-ed referred to.
CBS/42‘s Tim Reidwrote about how the city of Tuscaloosa planned to keep an eye on bar crowds during the city’s first Alabama football game. He quoted TuscaloosaCouncil member Lee Busby‘s admonition: “Get ready to do without your license because we are going to suspend them on the second offense.”
Reid wrote that Innisfree Irish Pub‘s Manager Nick Snead said that all of his staff would wear face masks and observe the 50% occupancy limits. Snead said, “We just want a level playing ground, we want every bar around town to be the same. If you’re not operating at 50% then you should get in trouble. You know, just because one bar is not doing good why should we all be punished.”
There were large crowds observed after Saturday’s football game at all of the bars near campus. Tuscaloosa Council Member Lee Busby said that there were less than a dozen citations to bars for overcrowding, according to 6/WBRC‘s Lauren Jackson. She reported that “only one bar was temporarily shut down for the night due to a second strike for over capacity.”
The Tuscaloosa Police Department has arrest records that include the ages of those involved in any altercation.
When Oxford, Mississippi cracked down on under-aged drinkers, Chaning Green in the Daily Journal reported on its Chief of Police’s testimony during a discussion of a proposed ordinance.
Oxford Police Chief Joey East stood before the board to answer questions and provide additional insight to the process. He talked about how there have been over 100 charges, not arrested but charges, that have happened since the students returned. The majority of which happened on the Square, in this Downtown District.
There is a 19-year-old college student currently in the ICU being treated for severe alcohol poisoning, after spending an evening binge drinking and being served in bars on the Square.
Two young women were recently sexually assaulted in two businesses on the Square. One of the businesses didn’t have security cameras and the other one’s cameras were broken.
East said he and the rest of his department are tired of running into these issues over and over again and that it’s past time something was done about it.
If T-Town ever get serious about enforcing its codes on underaged drinking, perhaps there will be similar testimony presented before its Council?
The city’s occupancy restrictions were established, because of the impossibility of actually enforcing “social distancing.” In many areas of the country bars are closed or are restricted to take-out service. Tuscaloosa actually has rules that are less restrictive currently than those in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOLA.com‘s Jessica Williamswrote that bars in the Crescent City are only permitted to have takeout service in go-cups. Indoor occupancy is limited to no more than 50 people. Tuscaloosa allows as any as 150.
On September 26th, 2020, images posted on social media of a crowd at Rhythm and Brewsshowed crowds who were not socially distancing or wearing masks, Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox said that several bars had exceeded their occupancy limits and said that there would be more enforcement. Only a couple of establishments reportedly received citations as a consequence.
A 2015 report in SB Nation by Steven Godfrey and Matt Brown said that “The Tuscaloosa Police Department spent $544,459.50 on overtime pay to police all seven Alabama home games in 2014.” Some of the expense, which should be far greater in 2020, doubtlessly is related to the activities on football weekends at campus bars.
It is regrettable that under the current situation, where more enforcement than ever is called for, that the city seems to feel helpless to find a way to cope with the problems associated with bars. If occupancy limits are the only tool in its arsenal, then perhaps the city should further reduce the number of people allowed into bars? It could even followthe example of New Orleans and allow no more than fifty people in bars.
A Tweet by the bandVelcro Pygmies was widely circulated in social media in T-Town. Included in the Tweet was, “You’re being reckless. You’re going to get everyone killed.” That was a sentiment shared by many of the people who shared the Tweet.
According to Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News the city of Tuscaloosa had only just loosened up the rules for Tuscaloosa bars. “As college football season approaches and local hospitals are not yet overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, Tuscaloosa city leaders are taking steps to allow more business at bars and restaurants.”
Three days later, Tuscaloosa’s mayor Walt Maddox expressed concern over crowded bars. Al.com‘s Mike Cason‘s article “Mayor Walt Maddox says tighter enforcement needed for crowded Tuscaloosa bars” Cason wrote: “In August, Maddox shut down Tuscaloosa bars for two weeks to slow an increase in the spread of the virus on the University of Alabama campus. He announced that decision after discussions with UA officials.” He included Maddox‘s Tweet on Friday, September 26th which said that several bars had exceeded their occupancy limits and the city would have a “heavier presence tonight.” He identified Rhythm & Brews, where the Velcro Pygmies had played, as one of the bars that the city had received complaints about.
Tuscaloosa‘s approach to maintaining social distancing has been based on occupancy limits. Currently as many as 150 people can gather in bars, as the “Good News & Bad News” FSB recently explained.
It is remarkable how at Harvard University, rules for indoor events on campus limit the number to 25 people, stipulating “for indoor gatherings, participants should be limited to 25 and must also have no more than 8 people per 1000 sq feet accessible space; overall, we discourage any indoor gatherings at this time.” These regulations are based on Center for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) guidance. According to an article by the United State Fire Administration, the radius of the 6 feet (which is recommended by the CDC for social distancing) is equal to approximately 113 square feet per person.
Tuscaloosa‘s regulations based on occupancy limits obviously had no effect on social distancing at the Velcro Pygmie‘s performance at Rhythm and Brews. But such regulations, if based on the state’s order, are likely to be inadequate for restaurants as well. The state’s “Safer At Home” order states that “Insofar as such establishments offer on-premises consumption of food or drink, they shall limit the party size at tables to no more than eight persons and maintain at least six feet of separation between people seated at different tables, booths, chairs, or stools.” Because of anticipated difficulty in enforcing the required social distancing, the city established occupancy limits.
As soon as Tuscaloosa relaxed its rules on bars, there was a great deal of jubilation expressed at bars. In CBS/42Tim Reid‘s article “Tuscaloosa bars hope to cash in on Alabama’s first game of the season,” it was reported:
Nick Snead is the manager at Innisfree Irish Pub. He admits many bars, including his, have struggled since March because of COVID-19. He is hoping he and his staff will have a busy day Saturday with lots of customers ready to watch college football.
“We know it’s not going to be what it should be during a normal season but, anything is better than nothing at this point. We get to see the kids, the kids get to enjoy football and that’s why we are here for the students and the city of Tuscaloosa,” Snead said. “We are here and open for them to have a place to come watch the game.”
In many areas of the country, such as Michigan and Florida, there has been much concern over the Coronavirus being spread by students. Nisa Khan of the Detroit Free Presswrote about the number of coronavirus cases at Michigan colleges creating spikes in Michigan counties. In Florida the Sun Sentinel‘s Cindy Krischer Goodman and Lois K Solomonwrote, “In Florida, the number of young people with coronavirus is soaring, driven by college towns where super-spreader students want to live normal lives and show no fear of getting sick.”
In Florida, the Herald Tribune‘s John Kennedyreported that Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis had dismissed the role of students and parties in spreading Coronavirus. He wrote:
On Thursday, DeSantis condemned as “draconian” the decision by Florida State University to suspend students who test positive for the virus but fail to isolate, or who attend or host large gatherings on or off campus. The policy was promoted by FSU President John Thrasher, a former Republican lawmaker and one-time head of the state Republican Party.
DeSantis, however, dismissed the impact of parties in spreading the virus, saying, “That’s what college kids do.”
Al.com‘s Michael Casagrandewrote about how Bryant-Denny Stadium would only allow “under 20,000 fans as part of the social distancing requirements.” Even though tail gating has been prohibited on campus, there is no way to predict the number of football fans who will converge on T-Town for the Alabama-Texas A&M game. Those attending the game will probably socially distance and wear masks before entering the stadium. But during and after the game on October 3rd, it is questionable if they will. Just how many off-campus house parties, before and after the game, will take place is also unknown.
In its Tweet, the Velcro Pygmies band documented how people in bars can ignore rules on social distancing. It could reasonably be asked if the first home game for the Crimson Tide in T-Town will turn out to be a super-spreader event?
Restrictions on Greek affiliated students at the University of Alabama were put into place almost as soon as the school reopened. An August 21st article by AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande reported that, just three days into the semester, Greek houses were put on notice.
Throughout the country, extraordinary measures regarding Greek life have been taken. Cassidy Johncox wrote that in East Lansing residents of 39 large houses were ordered to self-quarantine after a Covid outbreak. 25 of them were fraternity and sorority houses.
As reported by CNN‘s Taylor Romine and Allen Kim, Michigan State was just one of many universities across the nation that have reported outbreaks, many of which involved Greeks on campus.
CNN‘s Leah Asmelashwrote about the risks that colleges took in reopening:
Some campuses have given guidance on creating social pods. Others have created large social outdoor spaces, as an alternative to indoor gatherings, thus drawing ‘students away from higher risk settings…’
This kind of risk-aversion already happens on college campuses — just look at underage drinking. Colleges know that students will inevitably drink before they’re legally allowed to do so, and in response have provided safer alternatives for social events that don’t involve alcohol…
Across the country, entire sorority and fraternity houses have been put on lockdown following outbreaks of the virus, as partying and social gathering are baked into the very essence of that culture.
Which begs the question: Were colleges ever going to crack down on Greek Life? No one has stopped issues — including sexual violence, hazing and racism — that have plagued those groups for years.
A huge part of it is money, as many big donors are insistent Greek Life continue. Attempts at cracking down on them are often met with backlash from wealthy alumni, putting universities in a bind.
FAU‘s Sophie Siegel in 2019 described some of the dynamics involved with partying by Greeks. She wrote that the objective of one party was to “get as many females as possible in the house with as little males [as possible].”
Sororities, according to Siegel, can throw parties but partying is is largely the province of fraternities. She wrote that theoretically “the National Panhellenic Conference, which governs the country’s 26 major sororities, maintains that sisters can’t swig booze in sorority houses.”
In the comedic movie Neighbors 2, as The Washington Post‘s Danielle Paquettewrote, a sorority leader proclaimed, “In the United States, sororities are not allowed to throw parties in their own houses. Only frats can. We’re going to start a sorority where we can party the way that we want to.”
Many sororities have special relationships with fraternities who invite their members to parties. It is purported that there is pressure on sorority members not to report any activity that might injure the relationship with the fraternity that they party with. The existence of a campus “date rape culture” has been widely disputed, but there are many anecdotal details.
Melissa Frick in 2019 wrote about a co-ed who, after being raped by fraternity members, was told, “Those guys don’t deserve to get in trouble.”
According to university records, retaliation and harassment are themes in the complaints against PSP [Phi Sigma Phi]. Women often feel pressure from friends, members of Greek Life, members of their own sororities and PSP members to drop complaints. Many women stated they were discouraged from speaking out against the fraternity.
Amanda L. Hinkel‘s 2013 thesis “Sexual Victimization Among Sorority Women” gives details about her experience in a sorority at Eastern Kentucky University with partying and alcohol.
Throughout my active years, I saw so many girls drink, especially while underage, to the point where they could barely stand up straight. Especially with fraternity parties, there are always women from other sororities there, many whom I had never met or even seen before. I always worried about these girls when they were drinking, and I know of a few times that I had no clue where they ended up after the party.
A 2011 Psychology Today article “Getting Messed Up to Hook Up: The Role of Alcohol in College Students’ ‘Casual’ Sexual Encounters” by Suzanne Zalewski may help explain why drinking is so important to many students.
As long as Greek social life is centered on drinking alcohol, it will spill over from fraternity parties into bars that are considered “frat bars.” The term “frat bar” has even become part of urban slang. An internet search for frat bars will result in images and the names of bars in Tuscaloosa that are, rightly or wrongly, associated with Greek patronage.
The temporary closing of bars in T-Town, as reported by Gary Cosby, Jr. in the Tuscaloosa News, was justified because contact tracing for students had determined that there were “hot spots on campus and around the city.” Images of crowds gathered on the sidewalk at bars, which were popular with students, of people who were not wearing masks and/or socially distancing had been widely published on social media.
The remaining restrictions on bars in Tuscaloosa may result, particularly on football game weekends, in the proliferation of off-campus house parties that are held by football fans, Greeks and other students. Pre-game drinking in private housing has already been commonplace. Guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called for indoor gatherings of no more than fifty people, although the city of Tuscaloosa has allowed as many as 150 people to gather in bars. Even if private parties are smaller than that in number, many parties throughout town can just as easily become hot spots for infection.
Amanda Hinkel‘s thesis describes how “private apartments or houses are used in the hours leading up to the official event where alcohol can be consumed for hours before the event begin.” In that way any control that may have been exerted by fraternities on curbing under-aged drinking would be eliminated. When liquor at a fraternity in the past has been served, the city has passed special ordinances allowing alcohol vendors to provide drinks. The city does not require a vendor to enforce under-aged drinking codes. According to one such vendor, often security involved in checking IDs was provided only by the fraternity.
There have been myriad problems associated with the consumption of alcohol by college students for many years. With today’s Coronavirus pandemic there is an increased urgency. As Reid Wilson in The Hillexplained:
Younger Americans eager to get back to their social lives are increasingly responsible for the spread of the coronavirus, risking their own health and that of their family and friends under what health experts say is the misguided impression that the virus cannot cause them harm.
The idea that “kids will be kids” implies that younger people have always engaged in risky behavior and that is just to be expected. Today younger “super-spreaders,” who may never get seriously ill or are asymptomatic, can seriously impact a community’s health and economy. It’s not child’s play anymore.
Although nearly seven percent of University of Alabama students have tested positive for the Coronavirus, as Al.com‘s Michael Casagrandereported, there was a reduction in the positives last week. He wrote that the “number of daily positive tests dipped to 42 over the previous seven days after that figure sat at 125 last week.”
Still, the University of Alabama leads the nation’s schools in the number of students who’ve tested positive with over 2,000 reported cases. On September 10, 2020, Michael Innis-Jimenez‘s blogThe UA Sentinel compared the school’s total infections to the total numbers in several states:
The last reported 7-day total of newly infected UA students is greater than the last 7-day totals for the entire states of Wisconsin, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, New York Iowa Arizona, Washington, Nebraska, Mississippi, Kansas, Arkansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Utah, South Carolina, Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Nevada, West Virginia, Oregon, Hawaii, Connecticut, New Mexico, Montana, Rhode Island, Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, Delaware, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Maine, and the State of Alabama. That’s right. UA has more than the State of Alabama because the University of Alabama is NOT properly reporting these positives to the Alabama Department of Public Health as required to do. If UA was a state, the last seven days of available data would make UA the state with the 15th highest total. Take a second to absorb that. The University of Alabama’s 7-day total puts UA with more new infections than 35 other American states. 35!
Innis-Jimenez was featured in a September 12, 2020 article by Lauren Aratani in The Guardian “Quarantine dorms’ and suspensions: US universities fight Covid surges.” Aratani wrote:
Michael Innis-Jiminez, a professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama, said that many faculty members at his university have been wondering why the institution has not taken more serious actions as cases on campus have risen to nearly 2,000. Instead, the university’s top medical dean said that he was “cautiously optimistic” as new cases a day dropped from 164 to 125 last Friday. Some students were forced out of their dorms last month as the university moved to dedicate more dorms to quarantine students.
Innis-Jiminez said there were specific concerns about how the university will be sending students home for Thanksgiving as in-person classes are scheduled to end right before the holiday. Universities have already come under fire for sending students home after outbreaks on campus, potentially sending the virus to students’ home communities.
News about the new dip in positives at the University was released on the same day that Dr. Deborah Birx, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, visited T-Town. Michael Casagrandereported:
She complimented the barbeque, the university’s response to the outbreak and looked to the future. “I can’t say Roll Tide because I’m going to other SEC schools,” she said with a grin at the end of her prepared remarks, “but I’ll say it anyway and wish you best of luck in this football season.”
An article in Sports Illustrated, published on September 11, 2020, by Ross Dellenger connected the dots between college town infection rates and football fan attendence. He wrote:
According to data from the CDC, seven of the top eight states in highest infection rates are home to at least one SEC team, and nine of the league’s 14 college towns are producing enough cases daily to be deemed sites with “uncontrollable spread,” according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. Harvard’s metric uses a seven-day rolling average of daily new virus cases per 100,000 people. Anything over 25 cases is considered uncontrollable.
Tuscaloosa is arguably one of the college towns most associated with college football. Dellenger wrote about the football stadiums in Alabama:
Some medical experts believe stadiums will become super spreaders of a virus that is already impacting a community or state. Take for instance Alabama, which has the potential to produce some of the biggest crowds in America this fall. Three of its five FBS programs are allowing per-game capacities of 36,000 (UAB), 20,400 (Alabama) and 17,500 (Auburn). Though not expected to max its capacity, UAB is allowing 50% attendance after moving its games to the 71,600-seat Legion Field.
The city of Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox has been very concerned about the impact of reduced football attendance on the city’s finances. What would a football weekend be without T-Town‘s watering holes? After a fourteen day “ban,” he relaxed the conditions that he had placed on bars. As Jason Mortonreported in the Tuscaloosa News:
These changes take effect as local coronavirus cases continue an overall decline in Tuscaloosa County.
While the University of Alabama added 846 student coronavirus cases Friday to its UA System Dashboard numbers, bringing the campus total to 2,047, this increase marked a decline in daily averages, with Thursday’s student positives dropping to 65 for the day, according to the latest data provided by UA.
Maddox said enforcement and coronavirus-related data would be analyzed daily to determine the effectiveness of the latest executive order, but if the trends hold true then additional relaxations could come in the near future.
Bars were reopened on September 8, 2020, with “50 percent of capacity, as determined by the fire marshal, not to exceed 100 people.” Maddox said that enforcement of regulations would be “stepped up as the week gives way to the weekend.”
However on the Tuesday that bars reopened, WBRCFox 6‘s reporter Ugochi Iloka posted images of unmasked, non-socially distanced crowds gathered outside of one popular student bar.
WAAY/31ran a story on August 21, 2020, about the University of Alabama having cancelled all student events. The Crimson White‘s Jessa Reid-Bolling reported that on August 31, 2020, the moratorium on student events had been extended beyond the originally planned 14 days. Reid-Bolling wrote “The original moratorium was issued on Aug. 24 at the same time that Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox had announced that bars would be closed and bar services would be suspended for two weeks.” The University’s extension was attributed to the numbers of students who had been issued “conduct referrals.”
On September 10, 2020 the Montgomery Advertiser‘s Melissa Brown reported that “at least 639 University of Alabama students have been sanctioned in recent weeks for breaking COVID-19 restrictions in Tuscaloosa.” She wrote:
A UA spokesperson said Thursday that a suspension of one student organization is pending, while 33 individual students have been “effectively” suspended from campus while their “conduct cases proceed through due process.“
While the University was extending its moratorium the city was reopening bars. The University did relax some of its restrictions. Effective on September 14th, 2020, students were allowed to once again use study spaces and dining areas, “with strict adherence to safety guidelines.” Students in the same residence halls were allowed to visit each other’s rooms.
Katherine Ellen Foley in Quartzexplained the rationale behind social distancing. She wrote that six foot of social distancing was based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She pointed out that, while the World Health Organization recommended only three feet of separation, that “a particle fluid dynamicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggested that people might do well to stay more than 27 feet apart to avoid infecting one another.”
It is remarkable that the University of Alabama has required that any indoor gatherings have no more than fifty people.
There will be no large student organized events. This includes band parties, swaps, formals, out-of-town and off-campus parties or large gatherings of any kind. The guidelines for indoor events are no more than 50 individuals, with no more than 100 for outdoor events. Most importantly, attendance limits depend on the distance capacity of the space, so each event space is different and may not allow for even 50 individuals, depending on the ability to social distance within the space.(my emphasis) These restrictions may be adjusted, up or down, if risks associated with COVID-19 change.
Yet, if students at the University were to go to an off-campus bar, based on the city of Tuscaloosa‘s new order, they may find themselves indoors with up to 100 people. A chart that the city provided breaks down the numbers for bars in terms of occupancy. There are a number of bars in T-Town that could conceivably accommodate 100 people.
The Business Insider‘s Conner Perrett wrote an article “Business owners in college towns are ‘trying to do everything’ they can to stay afloat” about the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on college towns. Although T-Town isn’t mentioned, Tuscaloosa is certainly just as impacted as Chapel Hill, North Carolina or Athens, Ohio. The emphasis on re-opening student bars in Tuscaloosa may have its basis in Mayor Maddox‘s idea of an “experience economy” where bars are a vital part of the recreation sector of Tuscaloosa‘s economy.
Bars, however, have been hot spots for the Coronavirus. NPR‘s Will Stone reported that “Public health experts and top health officials, including the Dr. Tony Fauci, say the evidence is abundantly clear: When bars open, infections tend to follow.” Many bars also have unique problems associated with ventilation and smoking, as an article in the Conversation “What a smoky bar can teach us about the ‘6-foot rule’ during the COVID-19 pandemic” points out.
Perhaps, rather than depending on the city of Tuscaloosa to regulate bars, the University of Alabama might have done as the University of Wisconsin did. Undergraduate students were essentially locked down after a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank on September 7, 2020, issued a directive:
A growing number of COVID-19 cases have been detected, particularly among students living off-campus, and can be linked to situations where people did not wear face coverings or practice physical distancing. We see this reflected in the data, but it’s also apparent in social media posts and in conversations with students who have tested positive. Unfortunately, too many students have chosen to host or participate in social gatherings that seem to demonstrate a high disregard for the seriousness of this virus and the risk to our entire community.
Undergraduates were restricted to activities such as going to class and shopping for food. Students would be held “accountable for their actions on and off campus, up to and including emergency suspension. Members of the community can report unsafe behavior.”
Amanda Todd with the university’s Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration office responded to an inquiry about bars, “Bars in Madison are closed, except for outdoor seating. But since the drinking age is 21, it’s unlikely that undergrads would be accessing them in any case. In addition, given the Chancellor’s directive to stay home with limited exceptions for going to class, medical appointments, we would not want to see our undergrads congregating even outdoors with non-alcoholic beverages.”
To the extent that the steps taken at the University of Wisconsin worked, the school was perhaps able to reduce student related contagion without closing its bars.
Whether the city of Tuscaloosa will have made its community safer by its new order on bar regulation may be reflected in the DCH Health System Covid-19 dashboard, which showed an increase in patients after the Labor Day weekend.
With the University of Alabama‘s first home football game scheduled for October 3, 2020, hopefully the diligence of both the city and University will have resulted in a good outcome.
Alabama’s head football coach Nick Saban is tied with the legendary late coach Paul “Bear” Bryant when it comes to the numbers of national championships. But in terms of moral leadership Saban is doubtlessly #1!
Nick Saban led a march of Alabama athletes on August 31st, 2020 that put an exclamation mark on his previous statements on racial equality and justice. The March event was in response to a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin having shotJacob Blake seven times in the back on August 23rd. Blake’s shooting inspired protests throughout the country that were similar to those that occurred after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020. Floyd had died after a police officer had held him in a choke hold for over eight minutes. His crime was passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
Saban made a statement on racial justice after Floyd’s death: “We’re at an important moment for our country, and now is the time for us to choose kindness, tolerance, understanding, empathy, and most importantly … it’s time to love each other. Every life is precious, and we must understand we have so many more things that unite us than divide us.”
Former Alabama football safety Rashad Johnson had declared, “A change will and is coming!!” He was joined by Offensive Lineman Chris Owns who said “Change is coming from this generation whether you like it or not. Enough is enough.”
Saban and Alabama football players participated in a video written by Alabama left tackle Alex Leatherwood:
We are a team, Black, white and brown. Together, we are a family. We are brothers who represent ourselves, our families, our hometowns, our university and our country.
We stand on the shoulders of giants — our grandparents and parents, our ancestors, our heroes and Alabama alumni, and former players who have changed the world. Beginning on our historic campus, we speak as one, acknowledging our history, honoring their legacy and building a better, more just future.
Saban’s participation in the march after Blake’s shooting from the Mal Moore Athletic Facility to Foster Auditorium on August, 31st, 2020, was a dramatic symbol of generational change. Former Alabama Governor George Wallace‘s infamous June 11, 1963 “Stand In The Schoolhouse Door” had occurred at Foster Auditorium. Wallace had attempted to prevent the enrollment of two black students, James Hood and Vivian Malone. The Alabama National Guard had been activated by President John F. Kennedy to insure that the students would not be blocked. In his 1963 inaugural address Wallace had proclaimed that there would be “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” The many trophies from Saban’s era of football victories are enshrined at the athletic facility. Foster Auditoriumis an National Historic Landmark.
Saban’s statement at the video press conference that occurred two days after the march was reported by Al.com‘s Mike Rodak:
We’re not letting this die. We’re making a list of things that our players can do and can encourage other people to do in our own community, some of which they mentioned on Monday.
So this is just not, ’We came over there on Monday and we had a march,’ and now it’s over. It’s, ’Hey, we challenged everybody to do things to make a difference and now we’re going to challenge ourselves to do the same things,’ me included. And everybody can do that in their own way.
During the live streamed video conference, a handful of people made comments that were highly critical of Saban. One of them posted, “Saban is going down with Black Lives Matter. F**k u.”
Saban was aware of the negative criticism of his advocacy for racial justice. He said:
I don’t have an opinion about everybody else’s opinion. I don’t have an opinion about — we try to do the right things. We try to provide positive leadership for our players. Like I said on Monday, we’re trying to elevate our players’ chances of having success in their life, through their personal development [and] academic support so they can graduate and develop a career, and what kind of career they can develop as a football player.
But a part of that is also providing leadership to elevate people around them by using their platform in a positive way.
There is only one thing stronger than racism in the state of Alabama, and that’s Crimson Tide football.
Racism doesn’t have Najee Harris in the backfield with Alex Leatherwood and Chris Owens blocking up front on the offensive line.
This summer, members of the Alabama football team — players who will go down as legends — have found a way to harness their team’s enormous power and use it like real-life superheroes in a fight against this state’s eternal evil.
Just as all things that have happened under Saban’s watch have unfolded with class, so also this march and rally unfolded. It is a mark of his love for his players that he stood with them and offered the first speech in front of Foster Auditorium.
But some on social media cried out as if Saban had stabbed them in the heart because he stood at the forefront as his football team marched. They were, of course, angry that Saban was standing for social justice. I wonder, do they not realize, that if one does not stand up for social justice, he is actually standing up for discrimination? Is that really what these critics want?
The idea that the Alabama football team represented a “Crimson Tide” is attributed to the Birmingham News Sports Editor Hugh Roberts who used the term in his coverage of an Alabama-Auburn game played in Birmingham in 1907.
Martin Luther King, Jr. in his I Have A Dreamspeech on August 1963 at the March On Washington referred to a biblical passage in Amos 5:24: “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream!”
Under Nick Saban‘s leadership, perhaps a mighty Crimson Tide has washed away some of the University of Alabama‘s sins of the past and justice will finally roll down. There now actually may be a new meaning for the popular Alabama sports cheerRoll Tide Roll!
The University of Alabama at Birmingham‘s infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Saag once said that bars were the fuel that fed the spread of COVID-19.
After closing bars in T-Town for fourteen days, Mayor Walt Maddox decided to reopen them on September 8th.
At the time of his decision 1,899 University of Alabama students had been infected. Since August 19th, nearly 1 in 15 University students had been infected.
The press release from the City of Tuscaloosa that announced the amended executive order gave this information:
Based on continued communication with The University of Alabama and the release of new data from The University of Alabama System on Friday evening, progress can be seen in the decline in daily averages since the last report. The City will continue to move forward with a measured and balanced response to protect our community’s health care system and economy.
“Two weeks ago, a surge of coronavirus cases on UA’s campus was threatening the continuation of in-person instruction for the Fall, plus creating potential long term impacts on DCH Regional Hospital,” Mayor Walt Maddox said. “With Fall in serious jeopardy, and at the request of the University, immediate and decisive action was required to protect our healthcare system and thousands of jobs.“
Maddox had hinted in a Tuesday Council session on September 1st that he might modify his executive order. He said that he might make the decision as early as Friday. An economic relief measure for bars, the Lounge Assistance Program, was scheduled to go before the Council on September 15th.
Maddox had expressed a lot of concern over restaurants that converted into bars in evening hours. They were singled out in the new order. Accommodations were also made for students waiting outside of bars.
The order stipulated that “the City’s Infrastructure and Public Services Department will convert the space dedicated to street parking on The Strip to pedestrian right-of-way to allow for greater area outside for those waiting in lines to have the ability to practice appropriate social distancing. This conversion will occur each evening beginning at 6:01 p.m.”
A good deal of the impetus for the initial order that closed the bars came from the crowds that were seen outside of student bars. Large numbers of people were observed who were not wearing masks or socially distancing. The city took action in response to the University of Alabama‘s attempts to control the Coronavirus outbreak on campus.
Right before the city’s decision to reopen bars, the University of Alabama had extended its ban on in-person events until September 13th. It had already issued over 400 citations for COVID-19-related violations. The University informed students that off campus gatherings were prohibited by law and “University rule.” The school had previously allowed approved indoor gatherings on campus of no more than 50 people.
The City of Tuscaloosa’s new rules said that all “ABC lounge licensed establishments may operate at a reduced interior capacity of 50% of their occupancy as established by the fire marshal, not to exceed 100 persons.” The occupancy restrictions, which were not based on CDC standards, allowed twice the number of people indoors than the University had at first allowed for approved gatherings on campus.
Bars that were not licensed as lounges were required to “suspend walk up bar service and only allow alcohol sales to seated customers.” Customers would “not be allowed to enter the premises unless seating is available.”
In spite of the city’s claims about a decline in “daily averages” in the COVID-19 data, there was still a good deal of uncertainty. Al.com‘s Leada Gore reported:
Alabama could see more than 6,000 coronavirus deaths by January 2021, according to a key national forecast.
TheInstitute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington forecasts the state will have 6,174 COVID-19 deaths by Jan. 1, 2021. That death toll could grow to 7,748 if social distancing mandates – including mask wearing – were eased. Universal masking, however, defined as 95% mask usage in public spaces, would drop that figure to 3,988 deaths.
NPR‘s Elissa Nadwornywrote that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which was considered a “potential model for reopening campuses,” had announced a two week lock down for undergraduates.
According to Nadworthy:
The University of Illinois has one of the largest mass testing programs of any American institution. The school is conducting, on average, between 10,000 and 15,000 saliva-based tests for COVID-19 daily, at times accounting for more than 2% of all testing done in the U.S. The decision to clamp down on students’ movements calls into question whether any amount of resources and safety precautions makes it safe to reopen college campuses.
Al.com‘s Michael Casagrandereported on what Dr. Ricky Friend, the Dean of the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, had said about the University’s decision not to end in-person classes:
“From an epidemiologic standpoint, the 18- to 25-year old group is not going to suffer much disease burden,” Friend said. “But they will spread the virus and it’s incumbent of every campus member — faculty, staff, students — to practice [University] guidelines wherever they go.”
Al.com‘s Conner Sheet‘s article “‘You don’t exist’: Inside UA’s COVID-19 isolation dorms” painted a stark picture of campus life under quarantine. He said that daily life in an “Alabama isolation dorm can be boring and bleak.” He wrote:
In recent days, students’ family members and Tuscaloosa residents who are not UA students, faculty or staff have called for the university to institute additional measures to ensure it is doing everything possible to ensure more students and locals don’t contract COVID-19.
Some believe that the majority of sick students should not remain on campus after receiving positive test results.
Reportedly hundreds of University students withdrew from school before tuition payments were due.
University of Alabama professor Michael Innis-Jimenez wrote an open letter to University of Alabama officials that was published in Al.com. Innis-Jimenez called for measures “to protect the health of all of us in Tuscaloosa and home communities”:
1. Move all instruction online.
2. Test ALL students for COVID-19 at university expense.
3. Start a staggered move-out (over 3 weeks) of all students who test negative. Recommend that they isolate at home for two weeks and notify the receiving state’s department of health that they are traveling from a known hot-spot.
4. Isolate ALL students (regardless of if they live on or off campus) in university isolation space at university expense. This includes meals and basic living accessories including furniture, microwave oven, and legitimate isolation from other students and non-medical employees. Students should stay in isolation until a doctor deems they are no longer infectious.
5. If COVID-19 positive students refuse to remain in isolation and/or their parents pick them up, assist them in packing in a way that minimizes the danger to others and immediately notify the receiving state’s department of that the COVID positive and possibly infectious student is returning home.
A petition from the United Campus Workers of Alabama includes this statement;
According to the September 4th UA System Covid-19 Dashboard update, 846 students have tested positive for the virus at the University of Alabama since August 28th, bringing UA’s cumulative case total to over 2,000 students. Many colleges and universities across the country with infection levels far below UA’s are shifting to only online classes in order to protect students and workers from infection. For weeks, UA has insisted “nothing has gone wrong” despite the hundreds of students who have been infected by the virus, quarantined in substandard conditions, and disciplined by the university. All the while, local and national media have run dozens of stories on UA’s rising case count and administrative missteps.
As our case numbers continue to rise, the UA administration must take responsibility for the unsafe situations in which they are putting students, workers, and the Tuscaloosa community. Regardless of its plans for the future of on-campus instruction this semester, UA must operate more transparently and responsibly in the best interests of students, workers and the local community.
In an op-ed in the University’s student newspaper The Crimson White Staff columnist Kelby Hutchinsoncalled for the resignation of University President Stuart R Bell and “a formal apology to the student body for the greed that drove them to put human lives at risk for the benefit of their bottom line.”
The University’s best and brightest minds have labored long and hard on its plans to cope with the Coronavirus. The University has spent millions of dollars in Covid related infrastructure improvements. It has presented highly detailed instructions to students on what they are expected to do.
The University’s Student Government Association President Demarcus Joiner asked students to “continue abiding by the health and safety protocols that keep us all safe.”
The lyrics of Jerry Garcia‘s song “Deal” described a card game:
Since it costs a lot to win, and even more to lose, You and me bound to spend some time wond’rin’ what to choose. Goes to show, you don’t ever know, Watch each card you play and play it slow, Wait until that deal come round, Don’t you let that deal go down, no, no.
There is a lot at stake in how the city and university’s plans pan out. With any luck they will be playing a winning hand.