Professors and faculty need to step in to make sure students keep masks on

Photo courtesy of Charlotte May, Pexels.

The slow return to normalcy is seen at Ramapo College in the form of reduced COVID-19 restrictions. However, the policy requiring students to wear masks indoors at all times — unless they have a medical exemption or are actively eating or drinking — remains. Since many students violate this rule by improperly wearing their masks or walking around bare-faced, it is obvious that professors and faculty members need to get involved.

It is unreasonable to expect people who take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously to be able to focus during in-person lessons when they are forced to share these spaces with peers who violate a rule intended to keep everyone safe. Junior Jaiden Ajello voiced her discomfort regarding classmates who improperly wear their masks. 

“It is distracting and concerning because I notice other people besides them, like in the Atrium, who wear their masks improperly or not at all,” Ajello said. “I feel that the professors should take more concern in making sure the students wear their masks correctly in class.”

Every college should strive to cultivate an environment that facilitates learning. Students should not fear their classrooms as potential infection sites. 

Some professors are already doing their part to enforce the mask mandate. As their coworkers hopefully follow their lead, an unfortunate reality becomes apparent. Some legal adults still depend on authority figures to remind them to protect themselves and others. The divide between students who wear masks properly and those who refuse breeds conflicts within nearly every space and organization on campus.

Minutes from the Student Government Association General Meeting on Feb. 9 indicate a disagreement occurred between a member who advocated on behalf of students who are calling for the removal of the mask mandate and a member who opposed the idea. The latter accused the former of pushing a personal agenda and improperly wearing a mask indoors.

When pressed for comment about her defense of the mandate, Secretary of Diversity and Inclusion Cristina Navarrete Carpizo stated, “I come from a country where most [immunocompromised] people have died because of Covid. I have a more global perspective view of what are the consequences of not wearing a mask to protect the community.”

Carpizo’s opinion on whether professors and faculty members should get involved is nuanced. “I think mask mandates are not being enforced strongly enough which could be the consequence of his misbehavior,” she stated, referring to her SGA peer. “However, we shouldn’t have to be more strict… We don’t want to have public safety to walk the hallways for people to wear their mask correctly.”

Secretary of Governmental Affairs Danny Gurniak also gave a statement. “The typical reasons students make the request to me about mask removal are A: students believe the pandemic assessment team at Ramapo College attends our SGA meetings — they do not. B: a student is suffering from a disability, mental health component, social-emotional element, depression, struggling to form connections, and/or learning loss, etc.”

Although he cites data supporting making the mask policy optional, everyone should follow it while it remains. 

“I would hope that Ramapo students, staff, and faculty follow the current rules even if they don’t agree with them. The mask mandate was not made with an individual specifically in mind. The mask mandate was made to protect our school community,” Gurniak said. “When an individual breaks the mandate, then a professor or faculty member should ask them to leave their classroom, meeting, etc."

Although professors and faculty members should seize any opportunity they have to ensure others are wearing their masks properly, ultimately the students’ actions influence campus culture regarding COVID-19 safety guidelines. Everyone wants to eventually not need to wear a mask indoors. Now is the time to take direct actions — like wearing a mask — that will reduce the spread of the virus on campus and make this possible in the future.