The University of Winnipeg’s decision to make masks optional has left many students feeling apprehensive about returning to classes in-person this fall.
On Aug. 15, the U of W announced in a fall term update that effective Aug. 17, “masking will be highly recommended, but not a mandatory requirement.”
The update stated that the university will continue to monitor the situation surrounding COVID-19 in the province and that, if the current situation changes, it will modify its restrictions accordingly.
Masks will be made available on campus for students, faculty and staff who are more comfortable wearing them. The specific locations where masks will be available were not mentioned in the update.
At the U of M, masks were mandatory throughout the summer term and will remain mandatory come fall. KN95 masks are highly recommended, but 3-ply medical grade masks are accepted as well.
The U of W asks that the university community “exhibit compassion with respect to an individual’s choice regarding masking.” This is an area of definite concern for fifth year theatre and film student Gico Chiu, who had hoped that the university would continue the policies it already had in place, at least while indoors.
“I still wear a mask when I go into public and there’s just times where mentally I feel like I’m being judged,” he said.
“I feel like I’m the only person in the world that wants to be safe.”
As the university opens to the public, Chiu is even more nervous taking off his mask.
“I think that they should keep it the way it is,” he said.
Tyler Silver, a second year environ- mental studies and sciences student at the U of W, said that he had hoped for more of a “middle ground” when it came to campus safety measures.
“I’d feel safer if people were wearing masks at school, but at the same time I think last year was a bit overboard,” he said, specifically referring to the university campus being closed to the general public this past year — a restriction that is expected to loosen this fall.
Silver plans to keep wearing his mask as fall semester begins and expects those who aren’t comfortable without masks to keep theirs on too.
Student in religion & culture and geography Demery Broesky, currently in the last year of their degree at the university, thinks that the decision to make masks optional is “really disappointing.”
“It seems like the wrong decision given [that] we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and masks are proven to prevent the spread of COVID,” they continued.
After speaking with other students, Broesky found that they’ve all come to one conclusion: the university is contradicting its own values by making masks optional.
“We just find it really interesting that in a university, we’re encouraged to use our critical thinking skills and back up all our claims with research, but the university is seemingly ignoring the research showing how effective masks are.”