Faculty members, instructors, teaching assistants, event hosts and organizers at Lehigh now have the discretion whether or not to require masks in their classrooms and programs, as of March 1.
The decision is left up to these personnel who may choose to require masks, or allow students to not wear them.
Not everyone on campus is completely satisfied with the policy involving different rules for different spaces.
Biology student Julia Rock, ‘25, said she doesn’t mind her instructor’s continued mask requirement although she considers it an inconvenience, and her preference is not to wear it.
Due to her vaccination status and the low number of COVID-19 cases on campus, Rock views the mask requirement as unnecessary. According to the COVID Dashboard, there are five active cases on and off campus as of March 9.
Georgia Bromley, ‘25, said she feels more comfortable wearing a mask in her large biology lecture where there are a lot of students in one room.
Certain departments are deciding to take the individual decisions off of their professors by creating a uniform policy for their staff.
The entire biology department, for example, announced that they will continue to require masks in classes.
Biology Department Chair Linda Lowe-Krentz said the sweeping decision provides adequate time for teachers to make their own decisions regarding masking requirements, and some teachers have even taken polls of
This choice to require masks was reinforced by the fact that students work very closely with each other, faculty and teaching assistants for long periods of time during labs, according to Lowe-Krentz.
“I do know a number of people who are uncomfortable having to defend why they are wearing a mask when not required by the university,” Lowe-Krentz said. “If students are unwilling to wear a mask, they can be asked to leave.”
Biological Sciences Professor Daniel Babcock continues to require masks.
“In my experience, if you approach these topics in a respectful way, you get respect in return,” Babcock said.
Religion Studies Department Chair Michael Raposa said that several faculty asked to privately discuss with students any health concerns they may have and use that to inform their decision.
“I was one of those faculty determined to require masks to remain in place even if one student indicated some anxiety,” Raposa said. “In my 37 years at Lehigh, I have not always been proud of how the university conducts its affairs, but I am gratified by our community’s response to this crisis.”
Finance Department Chair Nandu Nayar said students have been flexible and willing to comply with the instructor’s wishes.
Biological sciences Professor Meg Kenna chose to continue the mask policy since, in the last two semesters during lab periods, there was much less contamination during microbiology units.
“This was an unanticipated benefit of wearing masks, so I was thinking of continuing to have students wear them just as we wear safety glasses and lab coats,” Kenna said. “This helps protect our experiments from us as well as the spread of any respiratory illnesses.“
Modern Languages and Literatures Department Chair Constance Cook asks her students to wear masks out of respect for her personal circumstances.
“I want to visit my infant grandson next weekend with less fear of transmitting this horrible virus. Also, I have immunocompromised people at home,” Cook said. “I phrased the situation in terms of my needs to take the heat off any students who may have unarticulated needs.”
According to Cook, some students have walked into class after the announcement without asking professors their preferred choice. To her, it is ironic that she continues to require masks even though it is easier to teach a language class without them.
Cook explained the classrooms in Drown Hall are claustrophobic and have windows that don’t open, providing additional reasoning for her decision to continue wearing a mask.
Professor Jill Schneider described that she feels very lucky to wear a mask and protect others.
“I am … mindful that I work around many people with unvaccinated infants, elderly department members and those with family members who are immunocompromised,” Schneider said.
As per an announcement from Provost Nathan Urban, if a student does not wear a mask to class they can be asked to leave the classroom, they can be reported via the COVID-19 Behavior Expectation Reporting Form (resulting in a student conduct referral), or the instructor can cancel class.