Dr Roja Fazaeli spoke to Trinity News last week to address claims of “harshness” among students in Trinity Hall (Halls) following their breaking Level 5 restrictions.
Fazaeli confirmed to Trinity News that there “most certainly” has been incidents where Halls residents have “engaged in behaviour that has broken governmental restrictions”, as well as “the Hall rules temporarily adopted to address this pandemic”.
“The two biggest categories of violation that I have seen over the past twelve months have been students bringing non-residents on site and students having parties,” Fazaeli continued.
The warden also said that there are more students breaking rules and being given punishments this year, and she thinks this is because “the stakes are so much higher when it comes to Covid-19”.
“Having seen the way that this virus has ripped through other halls of residence around the world and moved into surrounding communities, I’m certainly determined to hold the line on non-residents and parties,” Fazaeli stated. “I believe that’s a position which the great majority of our student residents respect and appreciate.”
Fazaeli stated that her role in Halls is “ultimately a pastoral position of protecting this place and all the people who live here”, however, she does also exercise the disciplinary function of a Junior Dean.
Fazaeli explained: “In normal years, this means helping to establish and preserve an atmosphere of mutual respect amongst residents so that all students can pursue studies and extracurricular learning to their fullest potential.”
Speaking to Trinity News two weeks ago, students raised concerns at a meeting of the Trinity College Dublin Renter’s Union (TCDRU) around students living in Halls feeling that they had been treated unfairly after breaking Covid-19 restrictions.
Addressing these claims made by students, Fazaeli emphasized that the repercussions for breaking Level 5 restrictions in Ireland are “significant for anyone at present”, and “Covid-19 is a crisis from which unfortunately no one is exempt”.
Fazaeli continued to explain that “up and down the county” non-essential travel is fined, people gathering at house parties are fined and the organizers of a house party, “whether it takes place in Trim, Tullamore, or someplace else will find themselves facing a €500 fine”.
“Trinity Hall is part of the same national fabric of this country, and I would hope that every student is able to acknowledge that some repercussion is justified for breaking the rules that apply equally to everyone,” Fazaeli said. “In this context, I must say that I do not think the repercussions for breaking rules at Trinity Hall during this time are overly harsh.”
Fazaeli explained that this is for “several reasons”, the first of which being that students at Trinity Hall are never issued summary fines.
“There is always a formal process of a hearing where I listen quite closely to the student or students who have been written up for discipline and seek to consider both their perspective and any mitigating circumstances,” Fazaeli explained. “I have also been at pains to ensure that any student facing any financial hardship is able to avail of alternative ways of repairing their breach of community trust.”
Fazaeli explained that there are a small group of students who she has “repeatedly” met with over breaking restrictions, and she has tried to “offer multiple chances to students”, “to exercise patience in the midst of this most difficult time”, and to provide “opportunities to contribute some positive service to the Trinity Hall community rather than engage repeatedly in fining the same individuals”.
Fazaeli explained: “I frankly do not want them to feel punished or caught, rather I want to come to a mutual understanding around why and how their actions were either dangerous or disrespectful to themselves and/or the greater community.”
Fazaeli continued to say that sometimes these disciplinary meetings determine that there was no infraction, or that there was simply a misunderstanding.
Fazaeli also explained that they are regularly in concert with student’s College Tutor.
“As such they are intended to be scrupulously fair and any repercussions are weighed carefully alongside student welfare, mental health, and personal circumstances. With all that said the most typical repercussion for a disciplinary infraction has been a monetary fine.”
When asked whether she thought the current repercussions were fair, Fazaeli stated that “it’s not fair for any of our students to have to be living through university days during this time”.
However, Fazaeli emphasized that she “wouldn’t be doing justice” to the students who live in Halls if she were to “turn a blind eye to parties and non-resident guests”.
“For many students this term – whether related to health considerations, lockdown travel logistics, family dynamics, internet access, or other factors, Trinity Hall is a necessary and essential home,” Fazaeli explained. “And in this year, which is unlike any other, we need to continue to strive to live together and keep each other safe.”
Fazaeli continued to explain that she wants us all to be able to “come out of this pandemic with our heads held high”.
She added that she “hopes” that on reflection of Halls residents over the past year, they will not see their student Covid days as “a lost opportunity to party”, but “rather as a moment when they learned that they were strong in ways they had not known before”.
Speaking to Trinity News, Fazaeli, who is the Warden of Halls, stated that there is a “mutual frustration” between staff and students in the complex at the moment.
“The extracurricular and social side of Halls is something that we’ve always worked very closely on with past JCRs, and frankly there is mutual frustration and sadness that at the moment that side of Hall has, necessarily, had to be so drastically curtailed,” Fazaeli explained.
Fazaeli continued: “Like everyone else, I miss the way life at Trinity Hall used to be – the student camaraderie, the friendships, and the social bonds that give this place life have all been put under tremendous strain as a result of this pandemic.”
When asked whether it is frustrating to see students repeatedly breaking Level 5 restrictions, Fazaeli said that “I think at this point in the pandemic everyone is frustrated”.
“I think at this point in the pandemic everyone would like to have their friends over to visit and to have a good party,” Fazaeli explained. “When this is all over I will personally host a party to end all parties at Trinity Hall and you are all invited.”
However, Fazaeli stated that in the meantime, we must “keep on keeping each other safe by social distancing, masking, and washing hands”.
“At present, unfortunately, a small minority of students, either intentionally or exhaustively breaking rules, seems to have dominated the narrative of what is happening and also what is possible at Trinity Hall during this time.”
“The powers of a Warden are overstated: I cannot magically bend the science of virus transmission on the Trinity Hall site,” the warden continued. “That means that parties are not possible, that non-residents cannot visit, and that, in the same way that household visits are now paused throughout Ireland, moving between the household bubbles of apartments is also not allowed.”
“That’s simply the fact of where we are at present.”
However, Fazaeli moved to emphasize that when it is possible, “during past breaks in the restrictions”, she has tried to work with the JCR to “recover as much of the traditional social side of Hall as can be done safely”.
Fazaeli said that the kind of “momentary respite” seen during the last term will return for Halls residents, however, in the meantime she would “welcome more focus on what is possible” in Halls over the coming months.
Online quizzes, yoga classes, online FIFA, chess tournaments, online meet ups and online study spaces, are all available to students at present, Fazaeli stated.