Statements from the City of East Lansing’s staff at last Thursday’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting revealed that East Lansing government officials are trying to work closely with MSU on public health messaging, focusing on the idea that public health is largely a matter of personal responsibility.
At the July 23 meeting of the DDA, City staff member Adam Cummins requested that the DDA allow the Downtown Management Board (DMB) to reappropriate $20,000 that the DDA had allocated to the DMB in June. The DMB is charged with promoting East Lansing’s downtown “through a variety of marketing efforts,” and the DMB funds were initially intended to support live entertainment, sidewalk sales, marketing, and welcome-back activities for MSU students.
That marketing budget was approved just three days after Harper’s reopened, but before 186 cases were linked to the establishment. The outbreak then stymied plans for various downtown activities.
On Thursday, the DDA approved using a plan to redeploy the largely untouched $20,000 budget to develop, produce, and place special signage around the downtown area. The theme of the campaign will be “Together we will. Stay safe to stay open,” a take-off on MSU’s “Spartans Will” branding campaign.
According to Cummins, the City is “working with MSU and other stakeholders” to create a “unified cohesive front” and ensure that all signage and messaging is “consistent on campus and off campus.”
The campaign will encourage safe behaviors—including mask wearing and maintaining physical distancing.
MSU has supplied the City with its messaging materials and the City is now using those materials to create toolkits for downtown businesses. Although MSU had maintained contact with some City officials before making the decision to offer in-person classes in the fall, now-former mayor Ruth Beier told ELi in May that she wished the City had had more of a say in the decision.
The reallocation of funds came just as Harper’s owners Patrick and Trisha Riley and their attorneys appeared before the Liquor Control Commission regarding the now nationally-known outbreak linked to Harper’s, a “super-spreader event” that had raised additional concerns about students returning and how the City would (or would not) be able to regulate large crowds.
Following the Harper’s outbreak, MSU sent an update on fall reopening plans and stated: “This is about personal responsibility and holding yourself accountable for the welfare of others.”
The idea that “personal responsibility is the key” is also present in the newly revealed MSU Community Compact, which “applies to MSU students, faculty, staff, alumni, contractors, vendors and visitors.”
The compact begins by stating, “In return for being part of the MSU community, by this Compact, I am taking personal responsibility in order to protect the health and safety of myself and others. My actions will impact everyone.”
The compact requires that members of the MSU community wear face coverings, maintain six feet of distance from those with whom they do not live, maintain personal hygiene, self-monitor for symptoms, and obey public health and safety guidelines.
Students must also “look for instructional signs posted by MSU or public health authorities” and follow these directives.
It is unclear to what extent students are obligated to follow these rules off-campus and unclear whether and to what extent MSU will seek to or be able to enforce these protocols.
The compact does provide information on how to report violations, but the possible penalties for students vary, including “warning, probation, restitution, change of residence, other (typically educational sanctions), disenrollment from a course, suspension and dismissal.”
The penalties for employees are less clear since multiple contracts and policies govern employee relations with the university.