COLUMN: Anxiety around optional masking


Ellen Dooley

Ellen Dooley, Columnist

Over break, Jay Gatrell, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, sent out an email saying that masking guidelines would vary from instructor to instructor. This gives the instructor power to choose whether students should mask up or leave it to their own decision. As you can imagine, this may scare some people, or be a relief to others. 

When I returned home over break, I saw my former high school’s spring musical. They have been mask optional for a couple of weeks now. It seemed strange when there were only about five people, including me, wearing a mask. 

I have always been one of those people who strongly encourage masking up. I do it because I have family who are immunocompromised. Well, when omicron hit, a lot of my family who were immunocompromised got the variant. It was not pretty when it happened, but they now have that extra boost of immunity with their shots.  

After the wave of omicron seemed to fizzle out and number of cases dropped, I felt better letting my mask down in current situations. I think local and state health departments did too. As an avid mask wearer, it is strange to not be wearing a mask some of the times. I started out small. Many people on my dorm floor were not masking and it felt safe for me to do so also.  

I think many students do have worries about letting their mask go. Trust me, I feel the same way. It has been two years since we made this habit part of our daily lives. I am not saying everyone needs to ditch the masks immediately, but I understand that some students may be leery to let their mask down, especially those who are immunocompromised.  

I do think we are going in the right direction. I know with every decision there are some who are with the decision, those who are not, and some people who are in the middle. I am one of those who are in the middle. Yes, it may finally be a relief for those who are hard of hearing and those who have similar struggles. As a future special educator, this seems a good step in getting those students back on track with speech therapy and other programs.  

But at the same time, I think people are reluctant to leave their masks at home. I completely understand and respect their choice. I know an invisible virus with no sympathy can be utterly terrifying for some people living with underlying conditions. 

I think the main thing we need to focus on is being respectful of people’s choices and wishes with masking. This may seem nerve-racking at first, but I believe we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  

Ellen Dooley is a Sophomore Special Education Standard Major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]