In today’s day and age, it has become the norm to wear a mask. To go to the grocery store, down to the park, even to step into the hallway of your dorm building, you need to put on a cloth barrier to protect yourself and others.
The way that we, as a nation, have looked at the mask mandates set in place throughout this pandemic, clearly differ. Some people refuse to wear them because they believe it infringes on their rights. Others cannot wear them because they restrict airflow and can cause health dangers. And some people willingly wear one each time they leave their home.
Why do we have such different opinions about something as simple as wearing a mask? Is it because, in a time of uncertainty, being scared forces us to grab onto one thing we can control, our bodies, and rebel against the authority that tells us what to do? Is it a lack of belief that something could become a danger with or without a piece of fabric across our faces? Or is it simply because we are determined to be right and anyone else has to be wrong, so there comes a divide in our societal groups?
On our campus, we are required to wear masks everywhere, which results in us, not only having a barrier between connection and friends but a level of mystery about what our friends look like below their eyes. We are making friends in our dorms, to be fair, but the mandates limit those connections.
We cannot sit in the dining hall to meet people outside our building and we cannot even eat as a group in the hallway of our dorms. Relationships, which are vital to the college experience, are becoming restricted and dictated by masks.
However difficult it is for the students, we also need to look at the authoritative side of this mask mandate and what it looks like on the administrative end to enforce and take care of us as the student body.
To look at this, I spoke with Ms. Maria Flores-Mills, our Vice President of Student Engagement and Dean of Students. She’s working to ensure that the student experience this semester is engaging and safe.
Flores-Mills is an important part of student life, being the person that takes care of the student body when it comes to the safety issues that we face. Her opening thoughts were, “We, as a community, for this to work and for this to buy in, we all have to do our part.”
As we made the return to campus, Flores-Mills had a huge part in putting together the COVID-19 Royal Return video on Canvas and the proper steps in place to make sure we were aware of “the why” of the situation.
I asked her if she was optimistic in the beginning about our return or if she expected another semester online, and whether it made her nervous. However, her response was confident as she explained her outlook on our return.
“As a senior leadership team, we watched our peers and implemented all of that [colleagues advice and proceedings]. I have a lot of confidence in our senior leadership team and our decision-making process, and the way we assess all of it,” said Flores-Mills.
At the same time, she admits that “It’s complicated in a lot of ways because everything we do at a college or university creates risk with Covid. The way we eat, the groups of people in indoor settings for hybrid classes, and then you mix them all up and do it again.” This is one of the reasons she declined a statement on whether or not she believes the outlook is good for us staying in hybrid classes. It is too volatile and unstable as a situation for her to be able to say anything about that outlook in confidence.
As we move forward throughout the semester, and there are more opportunities to get out and do things, as the weather changes and the campus gets more populated, there is risk for students who don’t wear masks and follow the guidelines.
I was curious what the punishments are for those around campus found not wearing masks and distancing, as we have been asked to do. There was communication about the expectations put on us to handle this semester safely but there was no information about the punishments for not following those rules.
Flores-Mills explained her viewpoint saying, “What we’ve been talking about with student leaders, the RA’s, and actually a lot of my colleagues, the senior leadership team, all of the student life division, and everyone is that I am encouraging everyone that if you have the capacity and it is possible for you to be like ‘hey, pull your mask up!’ then we all own that obligation. Another huge part of that is leading by example in that setting.”
The other option she mentioned being debated was to call Campus Police on students not wearing their masks in courtyards or not social distancing, but Flores-Mills believes that it is a community effort and simple requests will be enough to get people to comply, at least at the moment.
While Flores-Mills has been working in Administrative Conduct for nearly 25 years and, when asked what further sanctions will be imposed for blatant and continued breakage of the Community Covenant, she admitted that it’s “Going to vary for every student and it’s never the case that you can take any sort of conduct violation and say this is what is going to happen.” However, she was able to give me insight into what the steps of any violation will look like.
There have been rumors around campus, traveling through word of mouth through the dorms or parties and gatherings that have been caught, so my questions were what repercussions could we expect from behavior like that, which puts the student body at ris. Flores-Mills explained that it would move from a “pretty general warning to a more formal warning to deferred disciplinary probation.
Then in probationary status, it really impacts your capacity to access the privileges of the community. So you can continue at Queens, but you need to understand that any further violation of the rules could result in you being removed from school. Then there is a suspension and then there is expulsion.”
This is merely a spectrum of things that could happen, but of course, it is a case-by-case situation. If you are not wearing a mask, you are not going to be expelled, merely given a warning unless it happens repeatedly.
For example, if someone is brought in from off-campus into a residence hall, it is going to be more on the warning side, but when it becomes a gathering of people, that is when it could be more disciplinary and leading towards the more serious end of things.
Flores-Mills did explain that if a gathering like that is to occur, the host would face more “serious of a sanction” than the people who merely attend, although they aren’t off the hook either.
My summary of all this can be looked at this way: these impositions are not fun for either end to deal with. Flores-Mills does not want to take away our gatherings and ability to eat in the dining hall, but she puts our safety first and makes the hard decisions to preserve that.
We might complain, and likely still will, muttering under our breaths when we have to wear a mask to do laundry in our dorms, but at least now, we, as the students, can keep in mind that this isn’t the ideal for administration either.