Students study without wearing masks in Starbucks on Butler’s campus. Butler University recently dropped the mask mandate within classrooms and buildings on campus. Photo by Ben Caylor.
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Following spring break travel and with more than a month left of the spring semester, students, faculty and staff are left to make the decision on whether to wear a mask or not after Butler’s removal of the campus-wide mask mandate on March 2.
Since the CDC’s guidelines for COVID-19 are constantly changing, Butler’s mask policy is continually being reassessed, taking into consideration infection rates on campus. Some professors and departments, however, have already instituted their own mask mandates.
Tierney Mauer, a first-year communication sciences and disorders major, said after the campus-wide requirement was lifted, she still had to wear masks in her CSD classes. Masks were required partly because of CSD’s involvement in Butler’s Speech-Language clinic, where the risk of coming into close contact with immunocompromised and elderly people was prevalent. That CSD requirement has since been lifted.
“I totally understood because we’re working with the elderly, and I want to make sure they’re comfortable,” Mauer said.
In an email to The Butler Collegian, chair of the CSD department Tonya Bergeson said CSD stayed masked while faculty watched infection rates to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the case of a surge surrounding the beginning of the mask-optional policy or spring break travel. She said lifting the mandate came as a result of consistently low infection rates, sharing the thought process of the department.
“Our faculty [initially] decided as a group that we would remain masked in our classes, clinics, and labs until we could get a sense of how the mask-optional policy would affect rates of positive tests, especially after so many people traveled for spring break,” Bergeson said in an email. “Over the past week we became more optimistic about reduced risk of viral spread when Butler’s cases remained low.”
Other professors have decided to require masks in their classes for different reasons.
Jeanna Jorgenson, a lecturer for the department of history, anthropology and classics, said many of her fellow faculty members have been frustrated by the lack of information from administrators. She said confusion around masking decisions has led to fatigue and burnout.
“I was dismayed, because it seemed a little short-sighted because the pandemic is ongoing and fluctuating, and I also know that there have to be some students, faculty and staff at Butler that are immunocompromised, have chronic illnesses, or are disabled who wouldn’t be protected anymore,” Jorgenson said.
Jorgenson said conversations she was having in some of her classes seemed to clash with the decision to un-mask.
“I asked all of my classes if they would continue masking for two weeks after spring break,” Jorgenson said. “In my first year seminar, we had just spent six weeks talking about disability and disability justice, and the ways in which it is important to make spaces accessible to everybody … so when I put it in those terms my students were very understanding of that.”
Jorgenson said she was monitoring COVID-19 numbers on campus and taking into consideration input from her students to reassess her decision to continue masking. She said she plans to continue in-class discussions and use anonymous surveys to get input from students.
With masks no longer required by the university, students have been allowed to make their own decision, which has been difficult for some. Brynn Baker, a first-year biochemistry major, is continuing to wear a mask in class, regardless of the lifted restriction. Despite being both vaccinated and boosted, Baker said she is still concerned that the mandate ended too early, leaving room for variants to circulate on campus.
“Honestly, I’m just not comfortable going back to total normal yet,” Baker said. “I want to get there, but I don’t know if I’m ready yet.”
Baker said she wears her mask in class and in highly populated areas, but around her close friends and outdoors she feels comfortable removing her mask. She said the decision whether or not to wear a mask is very personal, and she hasn’t felt judged for keeping her mask on.
“I’m sure people in the back of their head are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe she’s still wearing a mask,’ the same way a couple weeks ago before we lifted the mask requirement, I’d roll my eyes at people who weren’t wearing masks,” Baker said. “But nobody has said anything blatantly to my face.”