Mask wearing on campus and in wider society is now an issue of “personal responsibility” with the final unlocking and easing of most legal restrictions in England. You now have a choice on whether to mask-up – and it’s an important one. I believe we should exercise that responsibility by continuing to wear masks inside campus buildings.
I see the decision as a key issue of accessibility. As a student, there are many places we need to visit and tasks we need to perform. For example, collecting books from the library, picking up something from Nisa, or simply going to lectures and seminars. Everyone should be able to feel safe and able to partake in these essential aspects of not just University life but day-to-day life.
Ensuring campus is a safe and accessible place comes in many forms, and reducing the risk of contracting a deadly virus is just one of them. There are members of our University community who are much more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others: whether they are immunocompromised, have an underlying health condition, or any of a myriad of factors that could make them more susceptible. This includes mature students and our lecturers and staff throughout the University who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic.
Wearing a mask in the library, shops, and when moving through campus buildings will help ensure others are both safer and more comfortable on campus, and I think that’s a very good argument for the continued wearing of masks in such situations. In doing so, I, you, we ensure that campus is more accessible for everyone.
This is particularly pertinent when campus life begins in earnest. Whatever the form lectures and seminars take in October, everyone should be able to access them and feel comfortable in doing so; this includes lecturers as well as students.
There’s much understandable anxiety around a return to some kind of “normality”, myself included. It’s no surprise after over 16 months of trying to manage through a global pandemic that a return to doing things we may have taken for granted before is not easy, even less so when the pandemic isn’t over, and in fact may yet reach its highest circulation so far. It’s perfectly valid to feel uncomfortable in crowded spaces where masks aren’t being worn.
Many of the most vulnerable have already had two doses of a vaccine for a while and will have been wearing masks and taking other precautions up until now for both themselves and those around them — not just because it was a legal requirement but because of the safety it provides. As cases rise, the risk to them and those around them is only increased, even more so when others who are in contact with them stop taking such precautions around them. Increased legal freedom for all means less practical freedom for many.
It’s important to recognise this when you consider the decisions of others; not just in whether they wear a mask but on whether they come to campus at all.
Everyone at university should feel welcome on campus and able to access its facilities. Continuing to wear a mask in key areas is one small yet crucial way in which we can ensure the best possible access for everyone.