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'Throwing on a mask is the same as when I put on underwear': Students talk new mask policy

<p>First-year students play with dogs at a Sunday event planned by two faculty-in-residence: legendary former Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek and Zbigniew Kabala, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. Wasiolek, the faculty-in-residence in Gilbert-Addoms dorm, said she’s held the event for years as a way to help students relax as the semester draws to a close. “Dogs seem to do that for us,” she said, adding that this year’s event featured masks, social distancing and dog treats.</p>

First-year students play with dogs at a Sunday event planned by two faculty-in-residence: legendary former Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek and Zbigniew Kabala, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. Wasiolek, the faculty-in-residence in Gilbert-Addoms dorm, said she’s held the event for years as a way to help students relax as the semester draws to a close. “Dogs seem to do that for us,” she said, adding that this year’s event featured masks, social distancing and dog treats.

When Duke announced that individuals on campus would be required to wear face masks indoors again in a Wednesday email, senior Lily Coll wasn’t surprised. 

“I felt like it was coming, after the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] changed their guidelines yesterday and everything had already started to change. I expected that Duke would do it too,” she said. 

For Coll and many students, news of the mask mandate was upsetting, but Coll believes the guidelines are necessary and in students’ best interests. 

“I’ve seen some people that are already really angry, but I don’t know that they’re necessarily angry at Duke or they’re just angry at the situation. People like to have something to blame, and people like to blame Duke a lot. But I don’t think this is a case where it’s really Duke’s fault,” she said. 

Some students in the Class of 2024 GroupMe expressed frustration at Duke’s decision. Sophomore Wendy Shi recalled some students saying that “it was ridiculous to be forced to wear masks despite vaccination,” a sentiment with which she disagrees.

“If we can lower transmission with a simple gesture, I think it is a small sacrifice to have to wear masks," Shi wrote.

Sophomore Anthony Salgado thinks that some students are “overreacting” to the announcement. 

“Last semester was a little hellish, but now we can unmask in residential halls. I’ll be able to see roommates’ faces, and as far as I’m aware, outside, in-person activities are still on. In-person classes are still there. It was so draining being online that if three-fourths of my Zoom time is cut, I’m happy,” Salgado said. 

When he received the email, he looked for news of restrictions on in-person activities or buildings. 

“If stuff like that was taken away, I could understand [the frustration], but it’s just wearing a mask.” 

Like Salgado, sophomore Jessica Anz, who lives in California, expressed excitement for the upcoming semester and for looser restrictions compared to last year.  

“We already reinstated the mask mandate [in California], so it won’t be a big change. I haven’t really stopped wearing my mask anyway,” she wrote. 

While Coll, who spent part of her summer in Durham, had gotten used to not wearing her mask to the gym and stores, Salgado had already planned on wearing a mask for the first few weeks back on campus. 

“Throwing on a mask is the same as when I put on underwear or clothes. I’m not going to go to class naked; I’m not going to go to class without a mask,” he said. 

For first-year Durga Sreenivasan, “even being able to go to Duke next year and be in the residence halls without a mask and just having that be normal will be nice.” 

Salgado expressed disappointment at how some Duke students were reacting to the mandate. 

“There are some people who literally cannot get a vaccine, and here Duke students are complaining about masking. I think people don’t see that we’re extremely privileged as Duke students to have done two in-person semesters. There are some people that have not stepped foot on their college campuses, but we’re complaining about masks,” he said. 

Coll and Salgado said they trusted Duke’s decision, in part because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued the guidance first and in part due to Duke’s proximity to COVID-19 research. 

“I think Duke never makes a decision that doesn’t go through multiple people,” Salgado said.

Salgado speculated that students might be concerned that a mask mandate is “the beginning of more to come and we’re going to all be locked down again.” But both Coll and Salgado said that they see this mandate as a preventative measure rather than a sign of further restrictions. 

Coll recalled that after administrators sent an email in March that warned of a nightly curfew or cancelling in-person classes if campus conditions didn’t improve, students seemed to disregard it. A few days later, Duke implemented a stay-in-place order.

“Now, as soon as you get an email from Duke administration, students are up in arms and scared and defensive. The people that do get mad at Duke and the administration are those people who are like, ‘Oh no, my semester is going to get taken away from me again.’ But if you’re following the rules and we go through it, I don’t think that will happen,” Coll said. 

Sreenivasan said that for a few months, she felt unclear about what the fall semester’s masking protocol would be. 

“When I was thinking about classes, I had no clue if we were going to have our masks on or not,” she said. “I think just even It’s going to be pretty sad that we’re going to meet people and first only know them with a mask on, but [the Class of 2024] also experienced this, definitely to a worse degree.” 

While Shi wrote that the mask mandate means “a slightly worse scenario this fall than what we were looking forward to a month ago,” she’s grateful it’ll still be better than her first year. 

“Everyone has to realize that Duke isn’t trying to ruin your semester. They’re not trying to make you unhappy; this is just how the world is working right now. And unfortunately, we just need to comply because, in the end, if we don’t, it’s just going to go on for even longer,” Coll said. 

Editor's note: Anthony Salgado has written opinion columns for The Chronicle.


Milla Surjadi | University News Editor

Milla Surjadi is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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