The news of Pitt’s mask mandate being lifted on March 28 marked the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
But since being lifted, mixed feelings have been stirring among Pitt’s population as it undoubtedly changed the course of the college experience for many students across the country. For the first time in almost two years, students are seeing the full faces of their peers and professors, and this radical change has produced for many a feeling of uncertainty for what the final weeks of the semester may hold.
As for one of the biggest culprits for this uncertainty? Peer acceptance. The fear of being associated with anti-maskers is real, especially for Pitt students attending a notoriously liberal institution. Are you an anti-masker if you decide to no longer wear a mask? Just because Pitt has lifted the mask mandate does not mean it is immediately socially acceptable to trash all of your masks.
Universities and businesses can still enforce their own mask policies that have forced students and employees to follow the rules. And now that the number of COVID-19 cases has significantly dropped in the United States, universities and businesses have reevaluated their policies and made the mask mandate more of a flexible option.
Most people would assume this reevaluation to be a positive sign, signaling that the end of the pandemic is nearing. The problem is that while masks may be going away, the stigma remains.
Student Sami Semiatin said she was excited for the end of the mask mandate, but explained her hesitancy to not wear one in the first week of this trial period. In her eyes, she wanted to first observe the actions of her fellow classmates before making her final decision.
She explained that many of her classrooms were brimming with students, and that even with masks, she felt way too close to her classmates. If the classrooms were bigger and the students were more spread out, she would have less of an issue not wearing a mask.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any students who were in full support of ending the mask mandate. I can only deduce that a minority of Pitt students accept lifting the mask mandate without traces of concern clouding their minds. The mask mandate has now been officially lifted for two weeks, and many students are enjoying the option to wear or not wear a mask.
The prospect of no longer fogging up your classes while breathing or being shamefully out of breath while racing to class is difficult to pass up. Yet it is my understanding that the fear of judgment is stronger.
I learned multiple approaches for dealing with this unprecedented situation after talking to a handful of students. One of my peers, Julia Koehl, suggested following the professors’ lead. For instance, if a professor wears a mask to class, then she will continue to wear hers as well. If a professor comes to class without wearing a mask, she will feel more comfortable leaving her mask in her backpack.
Her approach to this situation is commendable and she explained that her reasoning behind her logic is based on the age difference between students and professors. The age difference, sometimes small and other times large, between professors and students is something to note.
Older professors are more at risk if they are to catch COVID-19. Further, students who go to social outings frequently and then choose to not wear a mask in the classroom, put older professors in a potentially dangerous situation.
But a question keeps running through a majority of students’ minds is how to act under this new policy. In other words, what does it mean to not wear a mask? Many Pitt students I spoke with said they will base their decision on what their peers and professors decide to do.
From the beginning of the pandemic, wearing a mask was a highly politicized decision. COVID-19 temporarily changed the lives of many people living in the United States as strict measures were enforced to protect the lives of American citizens.
The debate over this precautionary measure eventually came to the forefront of COVID-19 politics. So, a stigma surrounding wearing a mask was formed.
Initially, wearing a mask was seen as a necessary requirement to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Although, there was significant pushback against mask mandates as many citizens believed this requirement infringed upon their freedoms.
Moving forward, I plan to use a combination of the strategies discussed above. My desire to not wear a mask anymore is just as strong as my desire to respect my professors and not be viewed as an anti-masker.
The end of the mask mandate at Pitt is a positive sign that the world is slowly reverting back to its normal self, but I will continue to approach this policy change just as I have approached the pandemic — with caution and care.
Featured photo by DS stories on Pexels.com.