Colgate’s New Mask Guidance Should Make You Smile

Over the last two years, it occurred to many college students that they may not see campus mask requirements lifted before their graduation day. First and second year students haven’t known anything else during their time at Colgate other than masks and surveillance testing. The juniors had a taste of complete freedom during their first year. However, for the seniors, the idea of finishing out their college years with a campus mask requirement must seem almost predestined.

However, as of last week, via a Colgate Together digest email last week, the university announced the lifting of its indoor mask mandate in all but Student Health Services, on the cruiser and if required by faculty, staff or campus event organizers. This move brings Colgate in line with the most recent guidance from the state of New York, as Governor Hochul allowed the state’s mandate to expire on Feb. 10, as reported by the New York Times. As the country transitions, not to a new normal, but back to normal, it is good to leave a few light opt-in allowances for those who are more hesitant to remove their masks, even given our high campus vaccination rate and small population.

In a recent Axios/Ipsos poll, it was found that only 18% of Americans feel as though they have entirely returned to life as they lived it before March 2020. When COVID-19 was unknown to us and our medical system was not equipped to handle its effects, precautions such as lockdowns and mask mandates made sense. However, while temporarily abiding by public health measures that weaken our social ties to one another was understandable for a time, living with them permanently is entirely unacceptable.

Colgate is not alone in upstate New York in rolling back its policies. Still, schools such as Hamilton College and nearby Cornell University have chosen to keep their rules in place with minimal changes since the New York state mask mandate expired. Colgate could be considered ahead of the curve in this respect, allowing individuals to choose to manage their own risk rather than dragging out uselessly strict restrictions on the functioning of everyday life. Hopefully, those other schools will follow suit soon enough and afford their students the same choice granted to us here at Colgate.

People may say, “Is it a big deal to just wear a mask?” or “What harm is it doing to you to wear one?” They’re right that there is no immediate harm presented by wearing a mask on a day-to-day basis; however, over time, covering half of our faces changes the way we see people and interact with them. Humans are programmed with facial recognition for a reason, and masks disrupt how we make first impressions or socialize with those we don’t know. Given that the COVID-19 virus still exists, wearing a mask is technically safer than going without one, but marginally so. The risk analysis of a young, healthy college student getting what essentially amounts to a cold is one that is much easier to conduct two years after the pandemic began and given all the data we have available to us.

For those of you who feel more comfortable keeping your masks on in class or at the library, it is your right to do so. However, I encourage you to continue to evaluate your comfort level as we progress through the semester. For many of us, it is strange how normal it feels to forego the masks, and it is delightful to see people’s smiling faces in class and around campus each day. Colgate is a small school, and there are only around 3,000 students to meet; removing the mask requirement allows us to reunite as a community. Of course, you’ll never be able to meet everyone, but as more and more people lower their masks, I encourage you to note all of the new faces that you may never have had the chance to see before.

This current moment may feel like an uncomfortable transition to the first and second year students, as you have only ever known a masked Colgate, and I hope you find an even more welcoming community than when you arrived. To the juniors, I hope you can smile at the fact that life has returned, in many ways, to how it was when your college adventures began. And to the seniors, I cannot express how excited it makes me feel to know that your final semester at Colgate can proceed as it was always meant to and that you will get to breathe that crisp Chenango Valley air at graduation this May unmasked.

The air is cold now, as it will be for at least a few more weeks, but as the sun creeps higher in the sky and the days lengthen, enjoy the air, enjoy the smiles. The day we’ve been waiting for since March 2020 has finally arrived.