Updated 4/23/21: This article has been updated to remove the name of a person quoted due to privacy concerns.
Large crowds and clouds of smoke filled Memorial Glade as students gathered with their friends for April 20, or 4/20, in celebration of marijuana, an annual tradition on the UC Berkeley campus. As posts of the event began circulating on social media, students and community members have expressed disappointment with the campus community for not abiding by social distancing and COVID-19 guidelines.
“My initial reaction was I thought they were reposting videos from two years ago,” said campus junior Juliana Roper. “Then I saw the date and was shocked and disappointed. I wasn’t surprised that people were celebrating but rather that so many gathered at the Glade.”
Though Roper is not opposed to holding a safe gathering in celebration of 4/20 as vaccinations have started to increase, she was disappointed to have seen such a large gathering take place this year.
Campus junior Dana Chen expressed concern over how the event reflects on Berkeley students, saying it made them look “very careless.”
“The gathering on 4/20 jeopardizes other movements where gatherings are essential,” Chen said. “(It) jeopardizes the unhoused population around Berkeley who do not have as much access to vaccinations, it jeopardizes community members who work with at-risk groups, and it depicts Berkeley in a bad light when it comes to advocacy.”
Though many posts about the event online express similar dismay toward the gathering, students in attendance reported feeling safe and enjoying themselves despite the large crowd.
A campus junior who attended the event and requested to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns said she went to Memorial Glade because she hadn’t been out in a group for a while and that because she is fully vaccinated, she felt OK doing so.
“I was going to stay home but I’m grateful I didn’t,” the student said. “Life is about enjoying the moment.”
Marbella Jimenez, a campus junior, added that it was strange being out in Memorial Glade with a lot of people given the present circumstances. However, they said they understand that many needed something to relieve stress and be together after a long period of isolation.
They hope students will share the same enthusiasm and turn out for other events as well.
“I wonder if I’ll see this big of a group on Sunday at People’s Park,” Jimenez said. “I haven’t seen people out, and it’s more important then.”
Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, however, urges students to continue being safe and practice social distancing.
“While it is clear that more individuals are optimistic about improving COVID-19 conditions, we are not in a post-pandemic place just yet,” Gilmore said in an email. “We share their optimism but COVID-19 remains in our community and everyone must continue to distance, wear face masks, etc.”
Campus subsequently sent out an email to students Thursday in response to the gathering, outlining “Spring COVID-19 Do’s and Don’ts” for students in Berkeley.
In the email, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Stephen Sutton emphasized that all students must follow COVID-19 safety guidelines while on campus.
“The large gatherings we saw this past Tuesday were not approved and have put our community at risk,” Sutton said in the email. “Any students or student organization who were present and not exercising required safety measures, such as wearing face coverings, or those found to have organized these gatherings may be subject to student conduct processes.”
Sutton added that in order for campus to stay on its current case trajectory, students must not let their guards down and keep in mind that the COVID-19 incubation period is long and that it remains unclear as to whether those who are vaccinated can still pass the virus along to those who are unvaccinated.
Sutton also advises students to refrain from attending or throwing parties and to stay home if they are showing any signs of COVID-19 symptoms, even if it may just be allergies.
“We realize that pandemic fatigue has set in, and you are seeking to connect more with others as the situation steadily improves. But please remember that your health — and that of those around you — is far too important,” Sutton said in the email. “We all see the light at the end of the tunnel, with more and more people getting vaccinated every day, we just need to hold out a little longer.”
Staff writers Samantha Lim and Veronica Roseborough also contributed to this piece.