Campus closed to visitors after community complains about noncompliance with social distancing, mask usage

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Samuelson Pavillion at Occidental College. Sarah Hofmann/The Occidental

Director of Campus Safety Rick Tanksley announced via email April 28 that Occidental’s campus is closed to all visitors in response to concerns of noncompliance with campus rules enforcing social distancing and use of masks. There is no precedent for closing campus, Tanksley said, but as a private college the school has the legal ability to close campus for any reason.

“The decision to close campus was not arrived at easily,” Tanksley said via email. “Oxy continued to welcome visitors after the city issued its March 19 ‘safe at home order, but began receiving multiple complaints from students, staff, faculty and even neighbors about visitors failing to observe social distancing guidelines.”

Campus Safety officers are enforcing the policy by asking those who are not officially associated with the college to leave, Tanksley said. Students who live off-campus and any visitor to a student, staff or faculty member will still be allowed on campus if accompanied by someone Occidental-affiliated.

“Whenever an officer observes someone they believe not to be either a student, staff or employee, or if a report is received from a member of the College that someone on campus is not wearing a mask, a Campus Safety officer will approach that person and determine if they are a visitor,” Tanksley said via email.

Jenny Mendoza, Marketplace cashier, said almost everyone she saw on campus before it was closed was not wearing a mask.

“Now I feel way better,” Mendoza said via message. “At least I know we are keeping everything sanitized and due to the pandemic we are not letting members from the community come in the campus dining facility unless you’re a student or faculty with a valid Oxy ID. That makes me feel safer.”

Signs were posted on campus in the beginning of April reminding visitors to observe social distancing guidelines and comply with the mandatory face mask order. After visitors continued to break the rules, Tanksley presented a recommendation to senior staff to close campus.

Tanksley said the decision to reopen campus will likely coincide with the reopening of public spaces like parks by city and state government. LA County’s “safer at home” order remains in place at least until May 15 and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Safer at Home order remains in place indefinitely. A four-phase plan to reopen the state based on public health benchmarks, starting with some businesses, was announced by California Gov. Gavin Newsom April 28.

After the college announced its transition to online learning March 12, Occidental emphasized that the school remained open. While the Marketplace is still operating, the library, Tiger Cooler and academic spaces are closed. Around 200 students remain in on-campus housing, and two residence halls are being occupied temporarily by medical staff from Huntington and Glendale Adventist hospitals.

Eagle Rock residents discussed the campus closure in a post in the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group on Facebook, where dozens of residents expressed frustration toward people not wearing masks and dissatisfaction about the new policy.

Eagle Rock resident Jonathan Payawal said he visited campus twice a week before campus closed to visitors, bringing friends and exercising in the Remsen Bird Hillside Theater.

“Now, we just walk or run around the neighborhood, but it’s not the same as it isn’t really open space. [Northeast Los Angeles] is a great neighborhood, but there isn’t much open spaces,” Payawall said via message.

Mendoza said she is glad campus is closed to visitors and feels safer since the policy was implemented.

“Honestly at first it was very scary cause I didn’t know what was going to happen or if we can get it at work or just anywhere,” Mendoza said. “Luckily I live alone and try to stay home unless I go to work. Or to buy food and straight home. I am thankful I do have a job still.”