SIUE’s mask policy draws mixed reactions

SIUE administration has created a policy that states all campus employees and visitors must wear a mask.

An email was sent out by Vice Chancellor for Administration Rich Walker on Monday, June 8, regarding face masks on campus and repercussions if campus employees and visitors did not follow guidelines.

“Masks are so important, that any employee who refuses to wear a face mask properly, without a documented health condition, and who can’t maintain a 6-foot social distance, will be sent home without pay for refusing to adhere to workplace safety rules,” the email said.

In addition, campus visitors will be asked to leave if they refuse to wear a mask, according to the email.

“Unless prohibited for health reasons as described above, campus visitors are required to wear a face mask and observe the 6-foot social distancing protocol,” Walker said in the email. “Extra masks can be purchased by [departments] to keep on hand rather than turn a guest away … Visitors who refuse to wear a mask should be asked to leave the campus. If a visitor refuses to leave, call campus police at ext. 3324.”

The Alestle sent out a survey to student Facebook groups to see how they would react to the policy’s rules for employees and visitors. The survey received 158 responses. More than half of respondents said they agreed with the policy. Most disagreement stemmed from the repercussions for employees if they did not follow the rules.

Walker said the policy is in place because of the current requirement to wear masks during Phase 3 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.

“We’re assuming [face masks] are going to be required in the fall as well,” Walker said. “That would cover all indoor public spaces for employees, visitors and students.”

According to Walker, campus police enforcement and escorting anyone away should be the last resort.

“The enforcement is by the entire community,” Walker said. “There’s lots of ways you can resolve an enforcement issue. The first, of course, is to ask someone, ‘Do you mind putting on a mask?’ In some cases, departments or students could provide a mask to [somebody]. We want people to comply, because we want to get the message across that we are all in this together.”

Honor Programs Assistant Director Ian Toberman said while he wholeheartedly supports mask wearing on campus, he expressed concerns about the mentioning of police enforcement due to current events. Toberman also acts as Staff Senate President.

“There’s a physical reason [for wearing masks]. We have seen various sciences that suggest wearing masks help. More importantly, wearing a mask shows that you care. It’s almost a visible signal, like ribbon wearing,” Toberman said. “It makes sense to have a policy that encourages and generally requires mask wearing when we’re interacting with other people. My concern is about having police enforce mask wearing. This is not a law enforcement issue; it’s a sociological, cultural and community standard issue. Asking law enforcement to intercede automatically makes it a much more oppositional interaction. That’s not what we need to be asking police officers to do, especially right now.”

Associate Professor of Mass Communications Mark Poepsel said as a representative of the tenure-track faculty association he hears other faculty members’ concerns about mask wearing and the spread of COVID-19.

“I don’t speak for all the faculty, but the ones I do hear from seem to want to air on the side of caution and want to be really careful with how much they’re exposed to or expose other people to the potential of catching COVID-19,” Poepsel said.

Walker’s email said SIUE’s campus is supplied with masks, disinfectants and hand sanitizer for all offices. Masks can also be purchased on campus at the Cougar Store or Health Service Pharmacy.

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