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Students Remain Vigilant After a Full Year of Wearing Face Masks

Believe it or not, there once was a time when you would walk into the Perk or SRC or Mabee Great Hall and see your friends and classmates smiling and laughing, and you could actually see their faces. What a difference a year makes. Those times will certainly return, but in the meantime how are students at Missouri Baptist University coping with the requirement to continue wearing masks after the mandate has been in place for the better part of a full year now?

Zachary Mailes works on his laptop at the Perk. Face masks have become such a part of students’ lives during the past year that we have come to expect them to be worn everywhere that people congregate.      Photo by Emmi Windes

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By EMMI WINDES

Think back to a time before America had social distancing, mask mandates, virtual learning and closed doors on businesses.

It was not that long ago. In fact, just over a year ago no one would have seen COVID-19 coming. In March 2020 there were fewer than 50 cases of the coronavirus reported in the U.S., compared to more than 500,000 cases as we enter March 2021.

As the numbers finally begin to take a downward turn for the better, the virus has clearly merged into people’s daily lives and has affected nearly every aspect.

One aspect, specifically though, is education. 

Limited class sizes, social distancing and Zoom are now considered “the new norm.”

In response to the virus, MBU unfolded a mask mandate at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, requiring students to wear masks at all times on campus except when socially distanced outdoors. 

Now, well into the spring 2021 semester, this mandate is still being enforced, but how do students at MBU truly feel about this?

Emmi Windes smiles with her eyes as those are all you can see of faces behind masks. Photo by Kamryn Bell

Ashley Drewel, a sophomore nursing major from Ballwin, Missouri, compared her experience of mask usage in Franklin County to St. Louis County before the county-wide mask mandate went into effect late in the fall semester.

“If you go to the store or something you’ll see, like, they’re not covering their nose, nobody really cares down there. It’s a lot more strictly enforced around here,” Drewel said. 

MBU has a significant number of Franklin County residents in its student body, along with a small satellite campus in Union.

Unlike St. Louis County, this was the first time Franklin County had experienced a mask mandate handed down from local government. 

Zachary Mailes, a junior criminal justice major who commutes from St. Clair, shares a similar experience to Drewel before his county required masks.

Dominic Johnson adjusts his mask as he ascends the spiral staircase in the Fine Arts Building. Photo by Jacie Coleman

“In Franklin County, everything for the majority is still open. … But if you cross the line into St. Louis County, up towards the city, you’re required to wear a mask essentially anywhere you go,” Mailes said.

Do MBU students think that a campus-wide mask mandate is the right choice?

Sami Mabee, a senior majoring in exercise science originally from Covina, California, pointed out the greater good for the greater number is at stake.

“I think for the good of the whole it’s not, like, completely wrong because they are just trying to follow what the county is telling them to do,” Mabee said. 

Mabee went on to address the changes she hopes to see in this mandate, such as easing the mandate when a small group studies in private rooms together.

“I think that really it should be like when I study in the pods when it’s just me and another person in the room, and if we’re both comfortable with our masks off, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Mabee said.

Ryan Boos, a junior majoring in criminal justice, said he does not feel that his personal rights are being infringed upon.

“I don’t see how, especially with a global pandemic, asking us to wear masks is taking away any right now or anything like that because there are already laws very similar to that,” Boos said. “We obey laws every single day that we go out and we have to wear certain clothes … we can’t be dressed indecent. There’s already laws that mandate us to wear certain things.”

Students visit in the Mabee Great Hall, masks and all. Left to right are Alyssa Beaudoin, Emmi Windes and Patrick Griffey. Photo by Dominic Johnson

Mailes said he also believes that MBU is certainly within its rights to unfold a mask mandate.

“Missouri Baptist as an organization, just like any other business, maintains the right to require you to wear shoes, a shirt and even a mask, and they do not have to provide services for you if you do not follow their laws,” Mailes said. 

But do students generally think it is appropriate to require masks right now? 

“I think for the good of the whole it’s not completely wrong, because they are just trying to follow what the county is telling them to do,” Mabee said.

Students offered mixed answers when they considered how MBU should go about enforcing the mandate.

Mabee said she believes that each person should only be responsible for themselves and their own health.

“I don’t think I should be scrutinized for not wearing my mask when I’m just sitting in the library, especially when I’m not even talking,” Mabee said. 

Mailes had a different response: “I believe it should be left up to each other and keeping each other personally responsible.”

As the seven-day average of cases has finally begun to trend downward in St. Louis County, MBU returned from the all-virtual learning environment it required for the latter part of the fall 2020 semester to a more semi-normal classroom setting this spring semester.

Students like Drewel are hopeful the continuing mask mandate will play a role in keeping the campus open this semester as we are all starting to see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel.

“I think it’s a good thing that keeps people from getting sick, and if we can keep you from being sick, we can go back to school.”

Patrick Szymczak (left) chats through his mask with Alex Todd. Students are finding it is still possible to stay connected during mask mandates. Photo by Jacie Coleman

Students visit over a table in an empty Mabee Great Hall on the campus of Missouri Baptist University, practicing safe social distancing and keeping those mandated masks in place. Left to right are Alyssa Beaudoin, Emmi Windes and Patrick Griffey.      Photo by Dominic Johnson

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