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Specific Campus Scenarios: Gatherings

Posted by on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in .

The health and safety of the university community are foundational to our efforts in responding to COVID-19. VU’s protocols with respect to “gatherings” prioritize core mission activities central to the university’s mission. “Gatherings” must be conducted in accordance with VU-established guidelines, and some “gatherings” must be approved.

The university will impose significant penalties for violating the university’s Gatherings policy, whether on or off campus, because such gatherings have potential campuswide impacts. Beginning Nov. 23, gatherings are limited to 8 or fewer people, and all must be physically distanced and masked.

The minimum sanction applied by Student Accountability if a student is found responsible for hosting a gathering that violates the policy will be suspension for a minimum of one semester; a first sanction may be as severe as expulsion, depending on the nature of and circumstances surrounding the violation. Attending, participating in, otherwise supporting, and/or concealing a gathering that violates the policy may also result in suspension or expulsion for a first offense. Students living on campus who are suspended or expelled for violating COVID-19 policies and protocols will be required to vacate the residence hall. The university will not issue refunds for tuition, housing costs, or fees.

All university community members also should be aware of Nashville’s guidelines concerning gatherings. Failure to comply with the city’s public health emergency orders can result in criminal penalties.

The Office of Student Accountability, Community Standards and Academic Integrity may also implement interim restrictions while students await the formal student accountability process if the university has sufficient evidence to conclude that the reported behavior presents a threat to the health and safety of our university community. Those interim restrictions may include but are not limited to: requiring students to sequester in their residence hall room or off-campus accommodation or elsewhere; prohibiting students from attending in-person classes or activities; restricting student access to university buildings; requiring COVID-19 testing.

Faculty and staff should carefully review the below Gatherings policy to ensure they are adhering to the guidelines. The Vanderbilt Faculty Manual provides that faculty may be disciplined for violations of the university’s standards of conduct. The process for reaching a decision to discipline a faculty member is overseen by the dean in consultation with the provost. The university’s progressive discipline policy states that a staff member can be disciplined for violations of protocols and procedures governing safety, and such matters are overseen by Human Resources.

These requirements for in-person “gatherings” are subject to change based on public health guidance and Vanderbilt protocols.

  • VU community members only: Attendance must be limited to VU community members (defined as persons with VU identification cards) only.
  • On-campus gatherings only (unless approved): Generally, off-campus gatherings are not permitted if students are in attendance and/or if VU funds will be used. Exceptions to this rule require approval by the Provost or her designee.
  • Maximum “gathering” attendance limit: The number of total/unique attendees may not exceed the maximum number under the university’s phased Return to Campus Plan, or the VU COVID-modified maximum capacity for the space, whichever is more restrictive. Organizers count as attendees for purposes of the maximum attendance limit.
  • Capacity controls/attendance tracking: Sign-ups and ticket distribution should be managed to maintain a strict maximum number of total/unique attendees. If interest exceeds capacity, develop a clear methodology for determining who will be chosen to attend, and consider using a waitlist or setting up separate pools/pods of attendees that do not overlap. Attendance should be closely tracked to assist in contact tracing, if necessary.
  • Physical distancing: Physical distancing is required. The “gathering” may be held only if attendees can maintain appropriate physical distance given the nature of the activities contemplated. Consideration should also be given as to whether attendees will be stationary or moving around during the event.
  • Face masks/coverings: By default, all participants must wear a face mask/covering. There may be exceptional circumstances when a face mask/covering can’t be worn (e.g., woodwind performer or singer during a performance); in those cases, approval should be granted only if additional physical distance and/or physical barriers can be used.
  • Food and drinks: Food and drinks may be served in a space where classes are held only on days when no classes are held in the space, and the space must be cleaned before the next class is held. Food and drink (provided in single-serve or grab-and-go type packaging) must be consumed only while maintaining physical distancing. Attendees may remove their face masks/coverings only temporarily to eat and drink as needed.


Core mission activities are not “gatherings.” These events do not require specific approval and are not subject to the VU maximum “gathering” attendance limit. However, other VU COVID-19 protocols (including physical distancing and face mask/covering requirements) must be followed. Core mission activities include:

  • Campus Public Health Events: On-campus public health/infection prevention and response events (e.g., COVID-19 testing center, Flulapalooza)
  • Academic Courses or Co-curricular Events: Academic courses and co-curricular activities when offered in connection with a VU course
  • Mission-Related Meetings Led by Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Dean, Vice Provost, or Department Chair: Meetings of university personnel convened to meet regarding the university’s academic-, research-, and service-related activities
  • Faculty- or Staff-Led Events in Direct Support of Learning/Discovery: University instructional and research support meetings that directly support learning/discovery and are directed by faculty/staff (e.g., lab meetings, journal clubs, poster sessions, programs of an academic/substantive nature hosted on The Ingram Commons or in a residential college and organized by a faculty head, programs of an academic/substantive nature sponsored by an identity-based center organized with its director, recitals overseen by faculty or staff member)
  • Research Lab Activities: University research lab activities, subject to the VU research ramp-up plan phases
  • Use of Libraries: Use of university libraries as an individual patron
  • Dining in Designated Dining Spaces: Dining in designated on-campus dining spaces (including outdoor spaces/tents)

Some personal/social events with members of the VU community are considered “gatherings” and are subject to the guidelines for gatherings while other personal/social events may not be considered“gatherings”:

These personal/social events with members of the VU community are “gatherings” subject to the guidelines under this policy:

  • Organized social events with students present alongside faculty/staff: Any organized social event with VU students in attendance
  • VU-sponsored (funded) faculty/staff get-togethers: Any social event with only faculty/staff in attendance, where VU funds are being used

These personal/social events are not “gatherings” and are not subject to the guidelines under this policy:

  • Non-VU-sponsored (funded) faculty/staff get-togethers: VU encourages all attendees of any event type to abide by any applicable public health orders/guidance.
  • Small, informal meet-up of students (8 or fewer, regardless of phased “maximum”): Students must comply with VU’s COVID-19 protocols, but these informal meet-ups are not subject to the broader “gatherings” requirements.

In-person events and activities with a primarily enrichment, extra- or co-curricular, or community-building purpose are “gatherings” that must follow the guidelines under this policy. Such “gatherings” include:

  • Meetings or events convened by registered student organizations (RSOs): Including Greek chapter events
  • Lectures or panels not part of a VU course: For example, Chancellor’s Lecture Series, Crawford Lecture, deans’ lectures, RSO-organized lectures
  • Art, dance, music, and theater performances: Including those organized by student organizations and offices
  • Ceremonies and receptions

All other gatherings and Events

As described above, small, informal meet-ups of members of Vanderbilt community, whether on- or off-campus, are limited to 8 or fewer people and all individuals must be physically distanced and masked at all times. A student, as an individual, may attend, participate in, or engage with an off-campus service, activity or event that is not hosted, managed, organized or sponsored by Vanderbilt University or Vanderbilt community members. While attending, participating in, or engaging with such services, activities or events, Vanderbilt community members are required to follow Vanderbilt University safety and gathering protocols (including masking and physical distancing from others). This means that if several members of the Vanderbilt community attend the same service, activity or event in the greater Nashville community they must not congregate in a masked, physically distanced group larger than 8.

What is a gathering decision tree























The university wants to provide students with academic and learning opportunities outside of the classroom while following all protocols for campus health and safety. To do so, all student academic or learning events must have an authorized sponsor who submits a required plan through Events at Vanderbilt. 

The sponsor from within an academic department (or school/college) can then include or invite registered student organizations and students to participate or support the event. Event sponsors should prioritize holding academic and learning events outside, and all such events must be on campus. Off campus events are not allowed. The authorized sponsor must file a plan and submit it to Events at Vanderbilt at least 14 calendar days in advance of the event. The plan must include in-depth information, including mechanisms to observe and enforce campus protocols. 

Following the university’s campus visitor policy, no non-VU attendees are allowed at such student events. During the event, there must be at least one faculty or staff member from the sponsoring department in attendance; the number required depends on the number of attendees. Their primary role is to ensure all attendees are following all University requirements during the event.

Graduate and professional student events will follow these same guidelines and also continue to be overseen by school and college deans.

Maximum size and related mechanisms to ensure physical distancing:  

  • The plan must include the maximum number of students and total attendees (students plus staffing) that the sponsor intends to allow to attend, keeping the COVID-19 modified maximum occupancy for any indoor space in mind.  
  • Approval consideration will also take into consideration how the plan addresses the challenges associated with controlling crowds and maintaining physical distance for larger events, including maintaining distance both during the event and ingress/egress before and after the event.  
  • In some circumstances, the university has already taken steps to help maintain distancing and event flow for specific on campus locations.  
  • For example, for outdoor events in the dining tents, there are set table and chair locations. On a lawn, students can be directed to remain in the circles, one person to circle. For an indoor lecture for 50 students, the university may have designed classroom spaces with chair straps in place to signify physical distancing and signage may already be placed to direct proper circulation. If the location for the event already has such measures in place, the plan may specifically refer to and rely on those measures.  
  • If, however, the location does not have such existing measures, the plan must include specific steps that the sponsor will take to maintain physical distancing. Regardless of location, some additional methods to mitigate potential bottlenecks may include ticketed entry and timed entry/dismissals. 
  • The tasks of maintaining physical distance and complying with university protocols become more challenging as event size grows and plans for larger group gatherings will receive significant scrutiny, including whether they are generally consistent with Nashville guidance on gatherings.  
  • Ultimately, wherever an event is located, the sponsors must state the expected mechanisms for following all campus protocols, and also state how the sponsor will enforce those protocols once the event is underway in the required plan.   


  • Event sponsors should prioritize holding academic/learning events outside. Many outdoor spaces, like indoor spaces, can be reserved through Events at Vanderbilt. Indoor events must stay within the COVID-19 modified maximum occupancy in a space while maintaining physical distancing as established by the university (e.g., through chair straps). 
  • Physical distancing: All participants, including speakers, must always maintain physical distancing of at least six feet. 
  • Face masking/covering: All participants must always wear a face mask/covering, including any speakers. Attendees must wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking at an event where food or drink has been previously authorized.  
  • Food or drink at event: The default position is that no food or drink will be allowed during any event. Prior authorization may be granted for pre-distributed, pre-placed, and pre-packaged food if the plan explains why food or drink are necessary for the event and how this distribution and placement will be achieved. Even then, three conditions must be met: (a) attendees must wear a mask when not actively eating/drinking; (b) no alcohol is permitted at campus events; and (c) no third-party food servers are permitted.   


  • Consistent with the campus visitor policy, no non-VU attendees are allowed at student events. The only exceptions are guests invited by the sponsor to provide content for the event (such as a speaker or instructor). Any guest must complete all required paperwork (e.g., Acknowledgments) and be approved by the Provost’s office to come to campus. Refer to the Campus Visitors policy on the Return to Campus website for requirements about how food and drink must distributed/arranged for campus visitors, noting the role of Campus Dining. 

Group participation, especially cheering/yelling/singing: 

  • Attendees should avoid activities that might require people to yell, raise their voice, or project their voice, given recent research about how talking loudly can lead to more large droplets/aerosols that spread the virus. 

Anchor Link and RSVP system:   

  • The sponsor must enter events into Anchor Link and use the RSVP feature to ensure that the event does not exceed the stated maximum number of attendees in the plan. All attendees must RSVP at least 48 hours in advance of the event so that appropriate vetting of attendees can occur.  

Swiping in at events:  

  • All attendees at university events (including faculty, students, and staff) must swipe in at every event in to aid in contact tracing efforts if needed. If the event must use a different sign-in approach due to a technological issue, the sponsor must ensure appropriate sanitization between uses for pens/stylus/papers/iPads, or whatever other materials are used.   

Ratios for event staffing and support 

  • For student events, one designated event staff member must be in attendance for every 15 students attending. For the avoidance of doubt, when an event exceeds 15 students, a second staff member must be added (for example, a gathering of 23 students requires two designated staff). When an event exceeds 30 students a third staff member must be added, and this pattern of adding a staff member continues each time the event exceeds a multiple of 15. 
  • Event staff’s primary role is to make sure all attendees are following all above guidelines and to help maintain compliance. Designated event staff must include faculty or staff from the sponsoring department and may also include Resident Advisers or pre-designated student leaders who are aware of this role and responsibilities therein.  
  • Event staff may not be solely students; at least one professional (faculty or staff) must be in attendance at every event. Pre-designated student leaders in these roles should have completed the PHA training. All designated event staff must be counted toward any maximum occupancy limit for the designated event space.  


  • Graduate and professional student academic and learning events held within buildings specific to the school or college should be carefully reviewed by the dean for compliance. The dean can approve the events but must ensure the following:
    • Attendance must be tracked and be instantly available in the event contact tracing is needed
    • Events must be registered in Anchorlink for DOS tracking
  • Graduate and professional student academic and learning events proposed to be held outside of their specific buildings must be reviewed and approved by the Office of the Dean of Students through the Events at Vanderbilt space reservation process or by otherwise emailing

Guidelines for performing arts student organizations

  • Singing in groups will not be allowed.
  • Instrumental groups restrictions:
    • Instruments that require use of air (Woodwinds, Brass) will not be allowed
    • String and percussion instruments
      • No more than 8 individuals can gather
      • Individuals must be no less than 10 feet apart
      • Individuals must wear masks at all times
  • Dancing in groups will be permitted with the following restrictions:
    • No more than 8 individuals can gather
    • Individuals must be no less than 10 feet apart
    • Individuals must wear masks at all times
  • For groups that do not fall under either singing or dancing categories (VUT, TNC, etc.), the following restrictions will be in place:
    • No more than 8 individuals can gather
    • Individuals must be no less than 10 feet apart
    • Individuals must wear masks at all times
  • All groups that can gather should prioritize outside meeting locations rather than indoor.