Union College professors want support in their decisions on mask-wearing

Craig Efrati, Staff Writer

Despite the turbulence of Union College’s COVID-19 policy this school year, the announcement at the end of Winter term to make masks optional in most indoor spaces, is undoubtedly a massive change. The change in the masking policy, in addition to changes in the testing policy starting week 3 of Spring term, has prompted the co-Presidents of Union College’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors to release a statement to the faculty and administration of Union College, calling for Union to adopt a mask supportive policy similar to that of Skidmore College. Such a policy would allow for individuals to make the best choices for them in a more overtly supportive environment and would allow faculty members to require masks in indoor settings for long periods of time.

Professors Çiğdem Çıdam and Claire Bracken, the two co-Presidents who released the AAUP statement to the administration, agreed to speak with the Concrodiensis through a zoom interview. The professors highlighted their concern over the lack of specificity from the administration regarding how many cases would be needed for Union to go back to required masking. They also felt that although they haven’t discussed testing among themselves, they believe that testing should be required in an effort “to have a clear sense of where the pandemic is. We don’t know how the administration will react to this,” in the words of Professor Çıdam. She also stressed that “for me it is clear that masking is scientifically proven to help with the transmission of the disease.” 

The interview stressed over and over again that students and professors should be able to enforce masking in private spaces if they wish to. Without testing, we simply do not know what is going on and have no knowledge of what is transmitted on campus. Professor Bracken, hinted that, “if we had a mask supportive policy, I think that it would encourage a particular attitude around masking.” The issue highlighted by Professor Çıdam was that of “social pressure” that prevented students from exercising their true beliefs around masks. She asks, “how can we ensure that those people who do not feel safe when they are not wearing a mask can wear a mask without feeling marginalized?”

Çıdam stressed that masks would not need to be required everywhere on campus, but that people should respect others’ decisions around masks. This would entail respecting someone’s choice to enforce mask wearing in certain spaces as well as not ridiculing those who wear masks elsewhere. This will also help to ensure that those who are elderly, immunocompromised, or in contact with immunocompromised people in our community are given the options they need to lead safe lives. It is crucial to let people make their own decisions about masking, and this is why a mask supportive policy would be best for Union so everyone can make choices that are best for them.