Students, instructors don’t completely abandon masks after mandate is lifted this week

By Robin Sluzas, Staff Reporter

Austin St. Peter, the professor for one of Columbia’s science fiction classes, lectures the class located at at 33 E. Ida B. Wells Drive, on Friday Feb. 24. Some students still choose to wear their masks despite the mandate being lifted, while others no longer wear them. Kaelah Serrano

Trisa Colon was stepping off the elevator on the 5th floor of the 33 Ida B. Wells building on her way to class on Thursday morning. She was 20 minutes late and in a rush.

She already was wearing a black high-grade mask, even though starting this week, Columbia lifted its mask mandate in classrooms and instructional settings.

“I will admit I have mixed feelings, but most of that is entirely personal,” said the senior arts management major. She has an autoimmune disorder and recently had surgery. “Saying that, I also understand that a lot of the newer science is showing that me wearing the mask is more important than other people wearing the mask.

In classrooms across campus this week, students reported that many of their peers and instructors still chose to wear a mask. In fact, when an instructor wore a mask, students said they often did, too, either out of respect or because it reminded them.

Some students told the Chronicle that their instructors had not been enforcing the mask mandate even before it was lifted, and in those classroom settings, many students already had ditched masks before the mandate went away.

I don’t know if it’s too early or not to take off masks,” said Patrick Charles, a senior film and television major. I am worried because the teachers do not really have a choice about being around people who are wearing masks or not. I just feel for them a little bit.

Two faculty members on the Campus Reopening Task Force, in place since 2020 to discuss and shape COVID-19 policy and procedures, sent out a survey this week to full-time faculty asking their perspective on COVID-19 policies for the next academic year. The survey is open through Sunday.

Madhurima Chakraborty, president of the Faculty Senate and a member of the Reopening Task Force, said she has heard a wide range of anecdotal perspectives about the issue.

She and Christopher Shaw, an associate math professor and member of the task force, wanted to gauge the full-time faculty’s “comfort levels and opinions” on masking in instructional settings.

“We…thought this might be an appropriate time to reach out to faculty so that we can be better informed when we make suggestions to that body regarding masking,” Chakraborty she told the Chronicle in an email.

This is the first week since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020 that the college has not required masks in classrooms and instructional settings. In September 2022 at the start of this school year, the college made masks optional in most other indoor spaces on campus.

Masked and unmasked students listen intently to their professor at 33 E. Ida B. Wells Dr., on Friday Feb. 24. Columbia College’s mask mandate was officially lifted on Monday, Feb. 20. Kaelah Serrano

At the time, the city and campus remained at “medium” risk for community risk of COVID-19. Columbia’s community COVID level moved to “low” on Jan. 25 of this year. The Centers for Disease Control determines community levels based on new hospitalizations, the number of people already in the hospital and total number of cases.

Aliayanna Francois, a junior social media and digital strategy media, said she supported the mask requirement being lifted.

I keep up with the news as far as COVID-19 and things like that,” Francois said. I used to be a big masker, but I found that any time I did take my mask off, I would get sick.

Francois began taking her mask off in between classes to “build immunity,” she said. “Once the mask mandate was taken away, I was mostly okay with it.”

Wearing a mask posed some difficulties depending on the kind of class. In radio classes for example, questions could be misunderstood if the interviewer and guest are wearing masks, said George Zarr, adjunct radio instructor.

The way we got around it is, in the interviewing studio, everyone had their own mic,” he said. “They swapped mic and headphones out,” Zarr said.

Zarr said he had a problem projecting his voice when wearing a mask.

My voice would get hoarse,” he said. “I took some menthol lozenges by mistake and breathed into my eyes and went blind. My students thought I had a heart attack. But I trust Columbia and I trust my students. When I go on public transportation, I wear a mask.