The faculty’s influence on mask wearing in classes

University of Utah faculty members who are convinced they have little impact on their students’ choices can take heart from a recent student focus group.

A group of students gathered by the University Marketing and Communications’ “Stop the Spread” campaign team reported they are more likely to mask up in class when their instructors urge it.

“Some professors start class with a mention of masking and vaccination, making it personal with their stories of vulnerable unvaccinated children or other family members at home,” said Avery Abelhouzen, a senior majoring in history and president of the MUSS. “When the issue is more personal, students may care more.”

Following guidance from state higher education leaders, the university adopted a vaccination policy on Aug. 27 that requires all students to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or declare an exemption by Sept. 30. Those who do not will have a hold placed on their registration for the Spring 2022 Semester. Registration holds will kick in when registration opens the first week of November.

While university leaders continue to encourage the wearing of masks in indoor spaces, the university is barred by state law from requiring that students, staff or faculty members wear masks on campus. Exceptions have been made for students who have been exposed or tested positive for COVID-19 and are following university contact tracers’ protocols for isolating and monitoring symptoms.

Meanwhile, several students have complained that their instructors are not following the university’s guidance to wear a mask in class.

Teresa Garrett, Contact Tracing Team advisor and associate professor in the College of Nursing, said the U needs faculty members to model responsible behavior if the campus is going to remain open for in-person classes and student activities. Right now, the university averages 55 positive coronavirus cases per week or eight per day. More than 11,000 students, faculty and staff have been exposed in classrooms and laboratories around campus.

“We all want to remain in class for lectures and discussions. We all want to study and gather in Marriott Library. We all want to go to football games and gymnastics meets,” Garrett said. “If we all put up with a little bit of inconvenience and discomfort, we can keep our campus life as normal as possible. We’re all in this together.”