A TikToker from Cornell University has come under fire for partying without wearing a mask.
The backlash against Jessica Zhang, 18, sparked a petition calling for her expulsion from the university in Ithaca, New York, which allows gatherings of less than 30 people as long as attendees wear masks and keep a distance of six feet (1.83 meters) apart.
Zhang, who goes by the handle @zhangarang
on TikTok, has more than half a million followers on the platform. There, she shares advice on college admissions, scholarship applications and saving money, among other student-focused topics.
However, it recently surfaced that Zhang hosted a party in which guests — including herself — had neither worn masks nor maintained social-distancing guidelines. She subsequently confirmed having gathered with a dozen people who tested negative for COVID-19
Zhang’s party, evidenced
by a video, quickly drew criticism from some Cornell students. They soon formed a “Concerned Student Coalition” and set up an online petition that seeks Zhang’s expulsion.
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“Jessica Zhang has shown that she does not care to comply to public safety measures and wants to put other citizens at risk for the sake of her own entertainment. These are NOT what Cornell students value and she is a horrible representation of what the university stands for during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC,”
says the petition
, which has nearly 3,000 signatures as of this writing. “Please sign this petition in support of removing her status as a student at Cornell. She does not belong at an institution where she recklessly endangers local residents, students, and disparages the reputation of Cornell.”
Following the initial backlash, Zhang took to Snapchat to express her thoughts. She captioned a photo, “The people who slide up saying ‘you’re not social distancing’ are the ones that wouldn’t have been invited anyway.”
However, Zhang’s response only triggered more backlash, so she went to TikTok to post an apology video
, which was later reposted on Reddit
. “I wrongly believed it was safe for us to gather without masks, and I sincerely apologize to the Cornell and Ithaca community for making this mistake,”
Zhang claimed that the Snapchat photo was “taken horribly out of context” from her personal story “and has nothing to do with the gathering [she] went to” and that it was “a self-deprecating jab” at herself.
Aside from the petition, Zhang deals with a formal report that had been lodged against her. Cornell reportedly told her that the petition will not affect her punishment, which she declined to disclose.
Cornell created a “behavioral compact”
for students on campus and the Ithaca communities, which allows anyone in these areas to report violations directly. “While we are not able to speak to individual cases, we will note that a number of students who have violated the behavioral compact have been held accountable,”
spokesman John Carberry said in a statement.
While the petition seeks Zhang’s expulsion for violating COVID-19 rules, she suspects some people might be jealous of her following, and “trying to get clout using [her] name.” After hearing from friends that others have been to similar mask-less parties, she is convinced that people are singling her out.
“I would be devastated if my career were to be put in jeopardy … as the result of one mistake,”
she told the Washington Post