In fall 2020, Texas A&M welcomed students back to campus after months of virtual learning due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In order to keep students and staff safe, A&M implemented a mask mandate. The initiative, named “Don't Pass It Back,” seeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus by requiring the use of masks when inside a building or outside and unable to socially distance from others.
However, A&M has no way of truly controlling this mandate due to the large number of students at the university. It is common to see students not wearing masks in areas where it’s required or gathering in large groups without social distancing.
The Student Conduct Office has an incident report form where students can share instances of others not wearing masks on campus. Nevertheless, this form is simply symbolic. In order to report a student and have them face consequences, a name is needed. However, unless you personally know those who are not following the rules, you would be unable to obtain their names. Indeed, it would be ineffective and potentially dangerous to go up to a student and ask their name for the form.
A&M staff can approach students and request identification if they are not complying with the mask mandate. However, the number of students is far greater than the number of staff. Since staff are the only ones with true ability to enforce this rule, it is more difficult to maintain control of mask mandates.
Additionally, as seen by a Twitter post by animal science junior Freya Manuel, staff are sometimes the ones enabling students to not wear masks. Manuel’s post received significant attention after she reported her teaching assistant complaining about wearing masks. In another post, she updated that the TA had made it optional to wear masks in class, despite the university-wide rule requiring face coverings in all campus buildings.
Another student in the course, animal science sophomore Kenzie Colston, posted a response claiming social distancing was taking place and the TA had stated that anyone who had a problem with her not wearing a mask could send an email.
However, students should not have to keep staff accountable for following a university mandate. Anyone working for A&M should be aware of the rules and be expected to follow and enforce them. Actions like this TA’s are reckless and a danger to all.
In these cases, students are put in an uncomfortable situation since standing up to a person of authority is never easy. Students may feel like their grades or relationships with the staff member could be threatened and therefore choose to remain silent.
A&M quickly responded to both students, asking for more informationandassuring that all students and staff were required to wear masks in all indoor areas.
This situation was unique and the university became aware because a student was brave enough to bring awareness to it. However, the incident with the TA brings into question what happens when students are unable or afraid to report this behavior. Is this situation really unique, or does it happen more than we think and the university does not know?
If staff, who are the ones in charge of enforcing mask mandates, are not doing so, how is A&M supposed to control this situation? A&M has not implemented an effective way of getting students to follow mask mandates.
In order to reduce the threat of COVID-19 to students, there must be a change. Requiring students to do a short training at the beginning of the semester is not enough. In addition, there must be consequences for staff members who fail to report students not wearing masks and for not wearing masks themselves.
The safety of students must be a priority.
Stephanie Meckel is an english senior and opinion writer for The Battalion.