Common Ground: SUU students’ opinions on masks

SUUNews and the University Journal are producing a new podcast, “Common Ground,” hosted by Danielle Meuret and Lexi Hamel. The podcast will discuss controversial topics that interest Southern Utah University students. 

The first episode’s topic is students’ opinions on SUU’s mask expected policy. The university changed its mask policy from “appreciated” to “expected” which many students think adds no practical purpose.  

Students at SUU have mixed opinions on SUU’s current masks expected policy. Hamel and Meuret interviewed a six of students whose opinions ranged from being in favor of to opposed in regards to a possible mask mandate. 

Some students believe that masks should be enforced

SUU’s on-campus testing site reported 277 COVID cases during the week of Jan. 10. This was the first time cases at SUU surpassed 200 since testing began in August 2021.

“I do wish there was a strong mask mandate,” said SUU student Julia Last. “I’ve received ten emails that someone in my class has COVID since the start of the semester.”

Last also believed that the mask expected policy is not different from the masks recommended policy. 

On Jan. 18, SUU’s COVID task force sent a school wide email informing faculty, staff and students that COVID testing would be limited for the most vulnerable. The center would only test SUU faculty, staff and current students who are symptomatic.

“It’s very frustrating,” SUU student Karaline Taylor said. “At this point in time, they are turning students away from testing so we should absolutely require masks.”

Some students believe that SUU should not enforce masks on campus

As omicron spread rapidly throughout southern Utah, the university implemented new guidelines regarding testing and isolation. 

SUU encourages all students and faculty to wear a mask and stay up to date with vaccinations but cannot mandate masks due to bill HB1007 put in place by the Utah Legislature. 

The White House Coronavirus task force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first recommended face coverings on April 3, 2020. 

Throughout the course of the pandemic some people have gotten frustrated with no end in sight mask policies. 

“It is a tendency to rebel in the climate that we live in,” Daugherty said. “People are tired of this. We have been living like this for two years.”

Health experts claim that psychological reactance is a common response when the human brain feels a threat against freedom.  

“Resistance is ingrained into our culture and brains from a young age. Everyone has some form of inner rebel that likes to question or do the opposite of what we’re told,” says behavioral health therapist Jane Pernotto Ehrman.

People seem more likely to follow guidelines as long as there is an option laid out. People tend to react to mandates poorly and negatively. 

“I think it is good that SUU is taking a stance but also that it gives people the option not to wear a mask,” said SUU student Jaren Wilson.

Wilson claimed that he feels comfortable not wearing a mask because he is completely vaccinated with the booster and also recently tested negative for COVID.

“I am vaccinated so I feel like I do not have to wear a mask as much but I understand why people still want to wear them,” Wilson said. 

Finding common ground on the policy 

The mask expectancy policy still gives students the option to wear a mask on school grounds but SUU advocated for students to wear masks by sending emails to encourage the whole student body. 

SUU student Olivia Johnson understands that legally the state legislature does not allow universities to enforce masks but she still chooses to wear one.

“I’m for the masks and I am wearing one right now,” Johnson said. “With omicron, you don’t really know if you have it or not.” 

Blaise Daugherty, an SUU student, thinks the expectancy creates a “gray area.”

“We should either be told to wear or to not wear a mask — not have the expectation to wear one,” Daugherty said. 

SUU student Noah Sosa believes that if SUU required masks in the beginning of the year, then the COVID spike might have been avoided. Sosa is in favor of requiring students to wear masks but also believes that there should be exemptions for those that are vaccinated and test negatively.

“The reason why I am not wearing a mask is because I’m vaccinated, I have the booster and I recently tested negative,” said Sosa. 

Utah legislation prohibits the system of higher education and public schools from enforcing COVID masks. However, the state of Utah is under federal investigation for the state’s ban on schools mandating masks. 

The U.S. Department of Education believes that the bill is discriminatory against students with disabilities who are more at risk for illness caused by COVID. 

Hamel and Meuret will further discuss this topic on Common Ground. The next Common Ground podcast will be released Friday, Feb. 11 discussing voting rights. 

Article by: Danielle Meuret and Lexi Hamel 

Photos by: Audrey Gee