It’s understandable that some students may find Duke’s masking policy a bit frustrating. Rushing to catch the C1 only to realize you forgot your mask in your dorm room is a feeling many of us know all too well. More often than not, a little self-compassion and generosity from a fellow Blue Devil are usually all you need to get yourself back on track. This isn’t always the case though. Sometimes no one has an extra mask to offer, you refuse to use the discarded mask on the ground, and the bus driver does not accept a scarf held over your mouth, and students can either choose to accept the loss or put up a fight with the bus driver who is just trying to do their job.
A year ago, this “fight” usually entailed some choice words from a student and a stern response from the bus driver. Students have taken this anger to another level by becoming increasingly more disrespectful, and, at times, calling the Duke University Police Department (DUPD). It may sound like an extreme exaggeration, but there are students on campus who have taken out their COVID frustrations on bus drivers by yelling at them, calling DUPD, and saying that “they” should all be fired.
These overly intense reactions are not necessary. Duke’s masking policy has not changed significantly since last year, meaning that those of us who are not new to the Duke community should at least be familiar with the rules. Furthermore, an in-depth email was sent out over the summer describing where masks are required and when the university would reevaluate its masking protocol. As if this wasn’t enough, Duke has also flooded their social media channels with these new updates. This means there is no excuse for us to be ignorant of these policies or lash out when we are held accountable. It’s our responsibility to be aware of the rules.
We must also take a moment to look at how privileged we are to be at a school like Duke that can afford to send students who test positive for COVID to university-owned hotels/off-campus lodging for a week and distribute K-N95 masks to each student like they have in the past. Even though isolation protocol has changed, students still have access to healthy food, water, and fresh air, all staples for recovery. Many other institutions do not have the funds or resources to handle the pandemic so well.
Most, if not all, of us on campus hate masks. Professors find it difficult to teach. Students find masks uncomfortable and annoying. It’s also difficult to connect with people on campus and know when it’s socially acceptable to go maskless, even when you are allowed to. Even as I write this, I’m reminded of that feeling you get when you wear a fresh KN95 mask. Yes, it’s difficult to breathe, but it keeps us all safe, and safety is the top priority.
So, when you’re tempted to yell at a bus driver because you don’t have your mask (or you witness this in person), just remember how this makes the Duke community look. Most of our bus drivers are Black, and some are old enough to be our parents and grandparents. Not only does yelling show an utter lack of respect, it’s also pointless and promotes the stereotype of the “entitled Duke student.” “Shooting the messenger” does nothing to fix your inane problem with Duke’s masking policy, nor do the campus bus drivers have the power to change it. The oddest part about this entire scenario is that even if an exception was made for you and the bus driver let you board the bus maskless, they’d have to make an exception for the next person and the next person, putting their job at risk. Our bus drivers deserve better. Duke students cannot claim to be progressive or allies of any marginalized community when, in the same breath, they expect employees of color to put their livelihoods on the line so they can carelessly disregard well-established communal public safety measures. The real world doesn’t work that way.
Sonia Green is a Trinity second-year. Her column typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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