Editorial: Choose wisely


The day has finally come. It’s here.

After almost four full semesters of wearing masks in campus buildings and in our non-remote classes, as of March 1, masks at Lehigh have become optional for all indoor and outdoor spaces.

So that’s what my professor looks like.

The announcement was a surprise to many students and perhaps faculty as well. The email entered our inboxes around noon, before a number of class meeting times, forcing professors to make quick judgments on whether to require masks in their classrooms. To put it frankly, we didn’t see this coming and we’re not sure who did.

Think of colleges and universities nearby or influential institutions like the Ivy League schools — Patriot League schools such as Lafayette and Bucknell are still upholding their indoor mask requirements, while others like Boston University may soon see it lift. As for the often influential Ivy League, Columbia will be making masks optional indoors on March 14 while all other Ivies still require face coverings. 

Needless to say, we’re surprised. Typically we have seen Lehigh follow the lead of other universities and colleges throughout the pandemic, mirroring their policies and using their guidance to form our university’s own COVID-19 response plan. 

Yet, from our perspective, Lehigh never had an “all in” attitude toward COVID-19 protection for its community — if it did, administration would have provided all students with more protective masks or established more serious penalties for not following masking guidelines. Walking through buildings you would often find students with masks falling under their nose, or even chin. So, the mentality was not unanimous caution.

If you look at it that way, it almost makes sense that Lehigh would lift the mandate so early in comparison to other institutions. 

Of course, this is cause for celebration for many students and even some professors. Masks have been a staple part of our lives since 2020, unable to go inside any campus facility without one strapped to our ears and placed on top of our noses. But although we were used to wearing them, the end of the mandate feels like somewhat of a relief — for some.

Although this is an exciting time, not everyone is comfortable with this fast change in pace. 

Somehow, masks have become an extremely polarizing part of our lives, at least here in the U.S. It has become common for people to make value judgments on one another based on whether they willingly wear a mask in public. Now that they are no longer required in every classroom, will masks become an even more divisive part of our lives?

Will people judge me if I take off my mask? Will I be judged if I keep mine on?

These are thoughts that may have crossed our minds a number of times since the announcement came out.

We’re here to say: Do what you feel comfortable doing. Don’t feel pressured by peers to take off your mask if you don’t want to just yet. 

Masks are now optional for a reason—it is now up to us.

Regardless of your choice, respect others’ choices as well. What’s comfortable for you may not be what’s comfortable for everyone else. Instructors maintain the ability to require masks in their classrooms and any settings where they teach.

On that note, respect your professors’ choices if they maintain mask requirements in the classroom. We predict they were not expecting this change either, since some department standards were released days after the announcement.

Some of us may be immunocompromised. Some of us may be leaving town to see older family members during spring break. Some of us just may not be ready.

Some of us may have mask fatigue. Some of us may see the high vaccination rates on campus as comforting.

No matter how you see it, we ask that everyone respect each other’s choices. Masks should not be as divisive as they’ve become.

We now have the freedom to choose — something we haven’t had the liberty to do in years. It’s an exciting time, but perhaps it’s not the right time for everyone. 

Choose wisely.

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