St Chads amend college’s Covid-19 restrictions following open letter from students

By Poppy Askham

St Chad’s Principal, Dr Masson has released updated information about changes to the college’s Covid-19 measures in response to the publication of an open letter protesting the college’s proposed post-May 17th restriction easing. The letter, penned by James Burton and Joe Anson, gained 140 signatures from students at the college, around 20% of the college’s student body.

St Chad’s students objected to the college’s intention to maintain more stringent limitations on students than dictated by the next step in the government’s Covid-19 easing plan. In this latest stage, which came into effect on May 17th, indoor dining will resume, meetings of up to six-people from different households or unlimited numbers from two households will be permitted and an outdoor gathering limit of thirty people will be imposed. Social distancing will also no longer be mandatory and Higher Education institutions will be able to fully reopen. 

The open letter outlined four main requests, highlighting damaging legal, social and public health repercussions should they be denied:

  1. Permission for six people from more than two households and unlimited numbers from two households to meet indoors, including overnight stays in line with government guidance
  2. Use of all college outdoor spaces for gatherings of up to thirty people from multiple households to be allowed
  3. Scrapping of rules necessitating single-household tables at the bar and formals 
  4. Liver-out access to upstairs libraries 

In an email sent to St Chad’s students on May 14th, Dr Masson announced that following a “robust discussion” in a College Principals’ Meeting and communication with the JCR executive team, college restrictions would be altered. She confirmed that all college gardens will now be accessible for outdoor gatherings and that mixed-household tables of up to six people will be permitted at formal dinners and the college bar. College libraries will also be accessible to all St Chad’s students and each liver-in household will be permitted one overnight guest in a student room at a time.

Despite these changes, Dr Masson stated that the college will stand by the University’s decision to impose a cap of 30 individuals from two households on any outdoor or indoor gathering within colleges. Gatherings of an unlimited number of people from two households are now legal, but given the thirty-person limit on outdoor gatherings, college management believes “given the higher risks of indoor transmission, it cannot be the intention of the Guidance to allow bigger meetings indoors than outdoors”.

The University argues that the 30-person limit is in recognition that college households are generally much larger than the national average, but the open letter noted that the Government’s guidelines for higher education state that households in student accommodation should be treated the same as any other household in England. 

Dr Masson expressed the hope that the latest changes will address the social and mental-health-related concerns raised in the open letter. “I am really pleased that these changes will make it easier for you to get to know people in different households”, she wrote, adding that, “however much you love the people you live with, it will be wonderful to be able to socialise more widely as well!”

St Chad’s JCR President, Hala Heenan told Palatinate: “St Chad’s JCR Exec is working proactively with our college staff to ensure the best student experience post the 17th May whilst ensuring we kept the safety of our community in tact. The open letter expressed the frustration of students but these issues were already being dealt with in meetings between staff and students working together. We are very glad to see the easing of restrictions and to be helping in our college’s ongoing return to normality.”

Image: Adeline Zhao

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