The Problem With the Mask Mandate on Campus


Marc Hamon, Contributing Writer

Disclaimer: This is an opinions article and does not necessarily represent the opinions of all Beacon members. However, as a student-run newspaper, we believe that all students should be able to express their unique opinions in the Beacon.

After attending a Student Government Association meeting and reading President Richard Helldoblers email regarding masks, there is one thing I can’t stand: their refusal to lift and make them fully optional with a clear date that wearing them will end.  In this article I highlight several key factors and observations that the University, and President Helldobler has completely ignored. Everyone is entitled to their own dynamic and different opinions in this country of ours, with this being mine on the subject of why masks should be made fully optional. All I ask is that you go into this with an open mind while reading fully into why I wrote this and how it pertains towards everyone at this school in some way or another.

You may have heard the buzz behind Governor Phil Murphy lifting the masking mandates for K-12th grade schools on March 7th along with the public health emergency. You may have also heard that Governor Kathy Hochul removed the masking mandates for schools as far back as March 2nd in our neighboring state of New York. Additionally, you may have heard that the Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, has dropped the masking mandates in public schools on March 7th. These relaxing of the rules comes in the face of dropping COVID-19 case numbers and deaths with clear data to back it all up.

I do hand out blame to Governor Phil Murphy, who lifted the masking mandates for K-12th grade schools but said nothing in the way of high schools or state colleges. Yet the ambiguous wording for his official release stated the “universal” lifting of the school mask mandates. Making the wording specifically confusing in what level of education was ultimately effected on March 7th. I get that we are in fact a “University” but we’re not in a different universe from that of other schools. If the mask mandates can be made completely optional for K-12th grade schools why not for us here? It’s not like we’re in the DC comic Cinematic Universe where nothing really lines up or matters. I see ourselves in more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where things are meant to mesh together are in line with each other.

With the easing of masking restrictions being lifted everywhere else, the masking mandates and high mask status have stayed in place here with seemingly no end in sight. Only switching very recently to a slightly more relaxed campus masking status which has changed virtually nothing. I find this, as a student and a worker at William Paterson University, incredibly frustrating. President Helldobler has not given any indication of announcing a date that mask mandates will be lifted. It seems we are waiting instead for a bigger school like Rutgers to make a decision first and follow suit shortly after with the same or similar policy.

As students, we are led to make our own decisions about everything that pertains to our time spent in college. We choose our field of study, we choose whether we commute or dorm on campus, we choose our classes, we choose our schedule, we choose what clubs or originations we belong to and participate in. Thus is outlined in the Student Code of Conduct for 2021-2022 under Students’ Rights and Responsibilities section 2 “Students have the right to affiliate with recognized student organizations and engage in activities, provided those activities adhere to normal University policies and do not jeopardize the health, safety, or welfare of members of the University community.” But we are robbed of the quintessential choice of wearing a mask.

We are treated like children that cannot make their own decisions for themselves. Yet, in a weird twist of fate, the children of New Jersey, New York state and New York City, have been granted the choice of wearing a mask or not, before us.

Masks were effective at a time, before advances in science made the vaccines possible. Once the vaccines came out and were readily available, there was an understanding that you no longer needed to wear a mask when you were fully vaccinated. My vaccination record card shows that I got my first shot 4/21/21 and I got my second dose ten days before my birthday on 5/12/21. And now as of 2/26/22, I have gotten my booster shot. With the recent spread of the omicron variant, many students have grown natural immunity as well.

All of my viewpoints in this article pivot on the fact that the fully vaccinated people here at the University should be granted the choice of wearing a mask or not. The unvaccinated people on campus should be getting tested weekly and should continue wearing their masks. It was their choice not to get vaccinated, much like it was my choice to get vaccinated and get the booster. I have put three shots into my body (unfortunately not three shots of whiskey), all of which made me sick and miss school and work. Those were the personal sacrifices that I made in the interest of safety in being a responsible human being towards fighting COVID-19. My plan for getting the booster wasn’t even about keeping myself safe, it was just another tool for shifting the tide of not having to wear a mask, in my favor. Having it done at the Garden State Plaza, a place where you can choose to wear a mask or not, throws even more salt into the wound.

I have no qualms about sharing my vaccination information for this article towards proving my multiple points. There’s this taboo notion that people don’t want to share their vaccination statuses, which I really don’t understand. So far, everyone I’ve talked to whether it be co-workers, faculty, staff, friends and family have been very vocal and receptive towards telling me their vaccination status without me even asking. At this point, I’m okay if you are vaccinated or not. There’s a constant shifting of the goal posts that is always just out of reach.

At a time, life was good at the University as we relaxed the mask mandates to be completely optional after you were fully vaccinated. But good times last way too short while the bad times drag on endlessly. To quote Deadpool, “Life is an endless series of train wrecks with only brief, commercial-like breaks of happiness.” The variants put an end to the freedom of choice masking policy on campus which has just relaxed recently, ever since going into the alert red on the archaic campus masking chart. Now we’re at  alert orange with nothing discernably different. You only get a sliver of choice but are still robbed of the satisfaction as a fully vaccinated individual to not have to wear your mask!

Even now the mask mandates are somewhat relaxed on campus, they are still required in the library. Although, the rest of the campus is able to choose to mask up or not until getting to class. Even Governor Phil Murphy said “We are ready to move forward and not live our lives in fear.”

I am very lucky to have a good job on campus as part of Classroom Technology Support but there’s no use or need for wearing a mask my entire shift. Being forced to continue wearing a mask in the Cheng library was a big determining factor in seeking out a job working for the Student Patrol where I don’t have to. I hate wearing a mask continually and I hated wearing a mask the entirety of winter break when my car would be the only one parked the whole day in Lot 5 Row C. While I could count on one hand how many people I saw for an entire week besides the librarians, student workers and co-workers in the IT, alongside my department, masks were still required. The sight of a completely empty library, day after day, week after week and month after month was still not enough to have the mask mandates relax at all.

One of the CDC’s latest decrees has taken the wind out the sails for the argument to keep wearing masks. With even Dr. Anthony Fauci stating that we as a nation are headed out of the “full-blown” pandemic phase of COVID-19. And, the CDC has come out with new guidelines that relax the masking policies for more than 70% of Americans. Which even more of a reason to fully drop the masking mandates here at the University.

But even with Fauci’s latest announcement and the CDC making great headway with less and less people having to wear masks, one of their last decrees was that the cotton masks, which many of us have been using since the start of the pandemic, were absolutely useless. Yet, even with cotton masks being reported as basically useless, here we are at the University still wearing them. Which the school even handed out as appropriate PPE for student, faculty and staff alike to wear.

And that’s a big problem I have with the masking mandates, having it be an ultimate blanket policy that encompasses everyone but doesn’t care about each specific individual. Which I have a monumental issue with as every person is unique and handles life differently when facing their own challenges in life.

Take for instance the case of Daniel Hirujo, a student worker here at the IT department in the Cheng library. Much like myself in some situations, he has a noticeable stutter and says, “As a speech impaired individual, I do find it challenging to speak normally,” when talking about the wearing a mask in the classroom. I got a sense that, much like myself with my own slight stutter, he didn’t have the confidence to want to speak up in his classes. For, true legitimate fear, of stuttering in front of his peers. When you get past that small setback, Daniel is a wonderful, hilarious and talkative guy. We’ve had lengthy, fun and complex conversations while working in our respective departments in the Cheng library.

Additionally, by diving into that subject more, Daniel isn’t the only student who suffers issues with speaking or listening which may be impacted by the whole University wearing masks. I mentioned that I had a slight stutter, but I also have some other disabilities that are made worse by being forced to wear a mask. All of my life, I have struggled intently with interrupting others by stepping over their words. This is a problem I was making great strides with concurring up until the pandemic came around. I find myself regressing after now taking two steps back and off a cliff.

Now I did try and reach out to Accessibility Recourse Center on campus for a rough estimate number of students who were registered with disabilities like mine and Daniel’s that could be affected by wearing masks. After initial contact and a positive response from some of the receptionists there, I was then told they’d get back to me. Then after some time had passed, more emails sent out and another visit to their office, I was instructed to contact the Director of Public Relations for the University. All I was looking for was a rough estimate number and it felt like I had to jump through multiple hoops just to get it while being more than vocal and clear with my intentions. So, as of now, I don’t have that number.

Another disadvantage I have, and along with many other students, faculty and staff alike, is the fact that I have to wear glasses for distance. I’ve often joked about asking a girl out who also wears glasses so we could take them off and go on a blind date. But with masks being forced upon the University, I had to take off my glasses indoors as they would fog up from wearing a mask. Now, my head is already in a fog, constantly, but I don’t need or want my glasses to be. I joke about it, but my father several years ago did in fact split his forehead open on a street sign pole while cleaning his glasses, which ended up needing stiches. Wearing glasses is a disability in the ability to see clearly which many people don’t properly understand. And I can’t wear my glasses thanks to being forced to wear a mask, which is a huge waste of $300 spent trying to improve my vision. Yes, there are products that will keep my glasses from fogging up, but why should I spend even more money when I’m fully vaccinated with the booster? My problem isn’t with my glasses fogging up, it’s with masks still be required at the University in light of the positively changing circumstances towards fully lifting these mandates everywhere else.

See, the University  doesn’t think of these kind of individual needs when enacting a policy such as masking up the entire campus. The specialized needs of the few are outweighed by the collective culmination of the many.

Something I had nothing but contempt for was the daily health screening we all had to fill out when logging into WPConnect. This frustrating pop-up would cover your screen until you clicked it which then opened up to a separate web page. There you were instructed to fill out this health screening survey stating if you had any symptoms and to input your temperature. Thankfully, the University finally did away with this as I assume that many students weren’t filling it out anymore. Students could also easily enter false information into the form, rendering it practically useless.

South Park proved this point the best in the first episode of their new 25th season called “Pajama Day.” It all starts with Mr. Garrison getting mad at the fourth grade class which is overheard by PC Principal who revokes the class’s participation in pajama day. In solidarity with the plight of the fourth grade class, many adults start wearing pajamas to show their support. Then the show twists that idea of wearing pajamas in true South Park fashion as a clever shot at masks. But thankfully, the hostility ended when PC Principal announced it was opposite day and everyone was free to do the opposite of what they were told. Which ultimately solved all the turmoil at the school and the entire town of South Park. Which makes me think that we should take note from what Matt Stone and Trey Parker suggested in the “Pajama Day” episode of South Park and just let people do what they want, despite having being told to do something else.

Then the wording for the orange section of the mask status chart says masks are required for “academic instruction,” which is quite ambiguous in itself. It seems the University has left you to determine your own interpretation of what “academic instruction” really means. It leads to an individual drawing their own conclusion and their own understanding of what that ambiguous wording actually means in the classroom. Technically, if the professor isn’t in your room, you don’t need to wear your mask. Technically, if you’re not truly learning anything during class, you don’t have to wear your mask. Technically, once your class is dismissed, immediately, right then and there you don’t have to wear your mask. And I know I’m right, as the head of the Bureaucrats in Futurama, Number 1.0 states to Hermes Conrad ,“You are technically correct, the best kind of correct.”

But that decision is already up to you, the individual, when going to a multitude of other places across the state of New Jersey. Since dropping the indoor mask mandates in May 2021, you’ve been allowed to choose for yourself whether you feel comfortable wearing a mask or not indoors. But here at the University we still have the strict adherence to mask up in the classroom and library. Yet, going to a mall like the Garden State Plaza on a busy Saturday affords you the option to not put on a mask. If you’ve ever been to that mall on a Saturday you can personally attest that you’ll see way more people there than you will for any given day on campus. Willowbrook mall is the same way on Sunday, packed to the brim with people who have the option of wearing a mask or not.

Another big place where you’re allowed to choose if you want to don a mask or not is MetLife stadium. I started working there in 2019 and continued to work throughout the pandemic after the stadium reopened to fans. Masks were required for staff while working inside but were optional for those working outside. Then the stadium implemented a policy for those registering as fully vaccinated could choose to wear a mask or not. I choose to not wear mine while working there as I was mostly outside as part of the wheelchair team delivering guests to and from their seats before and after the end of the event or game. While we employees were registered as fully vaccinated, the guests didn’t need to be as New Jersey didn’t require being so to gain entry into the stadium. Now if you’ve ever been to a football game or concert at MetLife stadium you’ve seen just how many people come, there will be thousands of other people with you crammed into that horribly designed stadium. Which is honestly surprising because you wouldn’t expect to see so many people coming to watch the Jets or Giants try their luck at being a legitimate football team.

People who have actually been to or know about the stadium will probably say “MetLife is a completely outdoor stadium!” To which I would reply “No, actually, not completely.” Yes, most of it is an outdoor stadium, but there are a few parts of it that are solely indoors. Which the guests did not need to wear their masks in. The guests had the choice to wear a mask or not as it was swiftly taken away, along with our indoor breakroom, from us employees. While the guests walked around, seemingly doing whatever the hell they wanted, we employees were being forced to sit outside in the freezing cold under a tent and wear our masks once again in all indoor parts of the stadium. This was one of the major factors to why I ended up quitting that job at MetLife stadium and upgraded my status to being that of a guest. Being able now to do whatever I wanted with a newly found freedom of choice.

The big point I was trying to make in that trip down memory lane as a MetLife stadium employee was the clear dissociation towards being a guest or shopper at a location and not having to wear a mask. As I mentioned before, you’re allowed the option to do a “risk assessment” and determine your next move from there. Besides the mall you don’t need to wear a mask in New Jersey at restaurants, banks, the supermarket and many other small businesses. But here at the University, that’s not the case, you’re not allowed to be responsible for yourself and your own actions by doing a “risk assessment.” It is stripped away from you.

And while the school was telling you to wear your mask, so many people on campus weren’t wearing theirs correctly. I’ve even heard of professors not wearing them for class while teaching a class full of students forced with wearing theirs. But, by far the biggest population to not wear masks, or not wear them properly for that matter, were the students. There’s so many, just like at the malls, that wear their masks under their nose or around their chins. At the mall I think “If you can’t wear a mask properly, why wear one at all?” At school I see that and think, “Why are we still going through this charade if ain’t nobody wearing their masks right?!” And there’s no end to this song and dance routine that we’ve been doing for almost two years now.

Another big aspect of masks that is not brought to the forefront is the amount of them you see strewn about all across campus and even off campus in a multitude of places. If people can’t even be trusted to wear a mask properly, then what makes you think they’re going to be responsible enough to properly throw them out? Disposable masks are everywhere and they’re taking up more and more room in landfills across the nation while also contributing to untold levels of pollution all around the world. But for the sake of argument, let’s just focus sheer amount of mask pollution at the University. It is appalling how many there are all throughout the campus, whether it’s in all the parking lots, along multiple paths, tangled up in plants and on windy days being seen blowing in the wind like the 21st century pandemic version of a tumbleweed.

Discarded masks are ruining a once beautiful and scenic University with such an immersive beauty. I mean many of the buildings themselves are quite ugly (looking at, or rather averting my eyes from you, Health and Wellness Center) but the beauty is not lost on the scenery. With humans, I’m used to seeing some level of trash on the ground, which is inevitable, unfortunately, but not at the level it has been with masks on throughout the campus. Whether masks may fall out of a person’s pocket, out of their bag by accident, they were tossed on the ground purposely or they blew out of an overfilled trash can, discarded masks are a huge problem that the University should get on top of ASAP.

Now, when I attended a Student Government Associate or SGA, meeting and I heard the plight of the current student’s dorming on campus in absolutely deplorable conditions.  According to students, there’s mold in the showers, mold in the rooms, the heat is blasting and air filters get clogged up and need to be cleaned every week. But, one of the nastiest aspects of living in the dorms is the yellow discolored water.

It is quite startling to think that the University doesn’t care about the horrendous conditions that tuition paying students are subjected to even after being exposed by the media. And it seems like even when these concerns are brought forth to the school, they do nothing or take forever towards fixing any of it.

Take for instance the woes of Calvin Richie, a transfer student from Mississippi State, and his water related plumbing issues. It all started about a month ago with a text from his roommate that the toilet in their room would not stop flushing, which became so loud that it disrupted both of their sleep schedules. After sharing his concerns he was told that a work order would be placed and it would be fixed maybe sometime the next week. He got his toilet fixed by saying his room was flooded. That wasn’t the case necessarily but it was what he needed to do in order to get his toilet fixed to stop flushing endlessly. Forget the boy who cried wolf, Calvin is the boy who cried flood!

It seems like, work orders are akin to Tinder Likes, you’re not sure where they go and can’t be certain anything will actually pan out. If that’s how the University treats verifiable problems that jeopardize student health, then why are they being so stringent and strict with the mask mandates in classrooms and the library? The same place that requires us to wear masks to keep ourselves and others “safe,” can’t even keep students safe from itself and the horrid living conditions in the dorms. It is blatant hypocrisy.

Even my recent meeting with the SGA was a complete waste of time. The problem with the SGA is that they share their concerns with President Helldobler who ultimately makes the decisions.

The CDC has launched a COVID-19 Community Level County Check which allows you to search up your state’s county threat assessment levels which are categorized as low, medium or high. The most interesting thing happens when you look up Passaic County which President Helldobler said in an email “the transmission rate in Passaic County remains high, according to the CDC.” Well, according to the CDC themselves, that’s no longer a true statement because the COVID-19 Community Level County Check says that Passaic County is considered low and the same can be said about Bergen County.

But as I praise the CDC for their Community Level County Check, I find myself slamming them for their inability to deliver the same concise relative information across multiple facets of their website. Because when I look up the Data Tracker information for Passaic County it mirrors the masking status level by saying it’s still at substantial. But that contradicts what the Community Level County Tracker says as it displays Passaic County as low! So which is it CDC, substantial or low? There’s a huge difference between those two categories and what they pertain to with wearing or not wearing a mask!

I’m thinking what President Helldobler is getting is conflicting data that is leading to hesitancy in making the ultimate decision with completely lifting the mask mandates.

So, I leave you with this dear reader. What would happen if a huge mass of students, faculty and staff were to speak their opinions about the masking rules? What if they made their intentions clear?

I have done everything to get my voice heard but nothing has gained any traction. I am being stifled by a lack of direct communication to President Helldobler’s desk. Instead I’m just getting a reply back up to a month later from people who surround him that answer on his behalf.

What I’ve led on to with the whole point of this article thus far, is that masks for the fully vaccinated should be made completely optional. Deciding to wear a mask or not should be up to the individual and be done under their own weighing of the options as a “risk assessment.” I talked earlier about college being the land of your own choices and that we’re being robbed the right to choose if we want to wear a mask or not.

Remember that we pay a ton of money to come here and we deserve to have our say. Masks should be made completely optional in all parts of the school and to have exceptions to those rules is insulting to all of us. I have to come to the library because I work here, but you my fellow students don’t have to. If you’re tired of wearing your mask in the Cheng library than just don’t come. Boycott coming in and go study somewhere else on campus that now allows you to keep your masks off.

It is a very reasonable compromise that masks be treated and worn as a personal choice. Why does the University continue with the notion of this all or none philosophy that often stifles the woes of the individual? Why can’t we join the reflection of the rest of the state’s indoor mask policy and Seton Hall University by having a freedom of choice to wear a mask or not?

Why is this such a hard thing to do, when there’s clear and concise evidence? It is time to end the mask-erade, once and for all. Make the right decision with dropping the mask mandates across the entirety of William Paterson University, now.