Anna Lee ’24
Chief Opinions Editor
On Monday, Feb. 21, the College of the Holy Cross COVID Core Team released a few new updates to their mask policies. Despite the decision to make masking optional, the Core Team cites exceptions for certain classes, professors, or areas. Thus, professors who are immunocompromised, or have at-risk family members among other circumstances, are not completely chained by the new policies. The reasoning behind the new masking policy is to address the “second pandemic” at hand: the crisis of mental health of our students, faculty, and staff. Of course, focusing on mental issues is critical, if not necessary – yet it forces students and faculty to question whether masking itself is the reason for deteriorating mental health. And if more lenient masking policies are linked to a promotion of more mental health discussions, what does that look like?
To get a better idea of what students around campus were thinking, I interviewed upwards of fifteen students around the Holy Cross campus. Every student in this survey had varying races, genders, and ideological beliefs, so I was surprised by the consensus to the question “Has your mental health been affected by mask mandates?” In general, students admit that while they can be uncomfortable and annoying, masks are not a source of mental strain for them. For example, one participant said mask mandates hadn’t affected them “any more than the rest of the pandemic. While I agree they are not ideal, I don’t view masks negatively or think that they have specifically taken a toll on my mental health.” Many participants also stated that they, in fact, prefer mask mandates since, in general, they help promote safety and a general line of understanding across all events and gatherings.
Despite where the majority leans, it’s still important to address the other side of the issue. Some students stated that their experiences were impacted by COVID-19 because “it’s stressful not living in a sense of normalcy” and it can be easy to “feel more disconnected from people around me.” The effects of mask mandates also seem to be a contributing factor for unease and discomfort during social events, exercise, and even while discerning facial expressions. And since my research is fairly limited, I don’t want to make broad assumptions about the entire campus. I’ve had some sort of affiliation with most of the people I interviewed, and therefore their experiences may be a reflection of mine.
However, it’s clear that at least some students are not experiencing mental health effects from mask-wearing independently or at all. This does not mean that these students are not feeling the mental health effects of the pandemic; other factors, like limited interaction, Zoom classes, and a general surplus of assignments may be culprits in decreasing mental well-being as well. If the “second pandemic” of mental health should be dissected carefully and with all of its nuances, there is certainly some work to be done about pinpointing the origins of the crisis itself.
Perhaps a better line of inquiry for future mask policy changes would entail asking the students, faculty, and staff what they’d like to see. For students and professors alike, many were taken aback by the new policy—not always because they disagreed with it, but because they were not expecting such a drastic change without warning. Giving members of the Holy Cross community ample time to adjust to and debate about the idea of masking policy changes may in turn lead to decisions that appease more people and reflect the wants of the campus more accurately.
Graphic by Anna Lee