After lacking a masking requirement for the summer, on August 23 the College imposed an indoor mask mandate beginning on move-in day and requiring masks to be worn inside all public areas on campus. Although the College intended to reconsider the mandate on September 4, due to a flurry of positive tests the mandate was expanded to include student common spaces and extended indefinitely on Thursday.
This mandate received mixed reactions from the student body and faculty, with some arguing that the initial plan to require masks only in the short term was insufficient to protect members of the community.
“I’ve been vaccinated like everyone else, but it’s still scary,” said Jack Shane ’22. “I’m not against Bowdoin extending the mask mandate for however long it needs to be to keep everybody safe on campus.”
Other students, while frustrated by the College’s approach, expressed understanding that some measures are necessary to keep people safe while also allowing students to resume a more normal social life on campus.
“It seems like [the College] is just sort of winging it,” said Theodore Danzig ’22 in a phone interview with the Orient. “There isn’t really a clear scientific answer or anything. There’s nothing saying, hard and fast, this is what we should do—[that] this is going to create the perfect balance of giving people the space [for] social interaction that we know is essential to everyone’s emotional and mental well-being while balancing COVID safety requirements as well. You just have to sort of pick something and stick with it.”
Stephen Boe ’22 said that he was confused by what he saw as inconsistencies in the College’s masking policies.
“The messages that are being put out and the practices that are being displayed don’t quite line up,” said Boe in a phone interview with the Orient. “With campus opening on [status] Green, but people needing to wear masks when moving into buildings, is that really [status] Green? Is that actually fully normal? No, it’s pretending things are normal and knowing there’s a level of risk but just wanting things to be labeled as Green on move-in…Why did we open on Green and not take a five-day grace period to be careful? The recent upgrades [in masking policy] make a lot of sense to me.”
Senior Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon stood by the College’s plan, saying that the ability to be flexible and change things on the fly was a key element.
“I’m confident in our plan. And I would also say that all of us who are involved in it are ready on a dime to change it as we need to and we won’t hesitate,” said Scanlon. “So, there are always going to be people on either end. I think what we’re trying to do is be sure that we feel confident that people are safe, but also provide us the means to start to move back toward practices that are more normal.”
By the current policy, students and faculty must wear masks in the classroom. Yet, if and when it is lifted, individual professors have the authority to decide if they want their students to wear masks during their class.
“The vaccine is clearly a good idea, and I’m very glad that Bowdoin mandated it,” said Associate Professor of History Meghan Roberts in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “But it also seems very clear, based on studies coming out of Israel and the UK, that it is not sufficient in and of itself to end the pandemic, and that transmission is still happening, even amongst vaccinated. That is why I am mandating masks in my class for the foreseeable future.”
“Professor Roberts, along with many other professors at Bowdoin, have children below the age where they can get vaccinated, so the fact that they’re being more conservative in terms of masks in class is something I understand,” said Julia Katter ’22, a student of Roberts.
Boe, for one, pointed to the inconsistencies in rules in different areas of campus as a key reason behind his personal confusion.
“Classrooms seem like an easy and effective place to be wearing a mask … [but] I think the concept of dining halls, for example, has been handled naively,” Boe said. “Thorne has been packed, Moulton’s like a chicken pen, and it’s crazy that when you stand up and leave the table you have to wear a mask, but when you sit down and squeeze between three friend groups, a mask doesn’t matter. If we have a mask mandate, why not just commit to it from the beginning?”
On February 3, President Rose wrote to the campus community that the Spring 2021 Covid plan was first and foremost “designed to protect the safety of all of us on campus and those in the Brunswick community.” This fall, however, Scanlon said that the College’s primary goal was returning to a sense of normalcy on campus, as opposed to solely mitigating COVID-19 infections.
“Our goal really was [based around asking the question] how do we try to come back to being a residential institution where people live together, work together, eat together, learn together?” said Scanlon. “And so, our safety protocols have been tied to trying to maximize our ability to live and learn in the ways that we’re accustomed to.”
Dylan Sloan contributed to this report.