The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies asks the chancellor to reinstate the mask mandate on our campus. Abandoning the mask mandate and denying instructors the ability to require masks disempowers individuals in their efforts to keep themselves and their families safe. We understand that many people will continue to wear masks on campus. Masks, however, provide the greatest protection when everyone wears them. By not requiring masks, particularly in spaces that do not allow for social-distancing, we have lost a crucial tool for individual and community safety.
Clearly, the consequences of this decision are not borne equally; those with complicating conditions and/or care responsibilities for unvaccinated children and elderly family members (care burdens that are still disproportionately borne by women and especially women of color) are left without good options. We also note the disproportionate risk shouldered by our teaching assistants who tend to be the instructors with the highest student loads and most frequent student contact. As a result, lifting the mask mandate marks a weakened commitment by the university to protect the most vulnerable members of our community. Given the unjust burdens of disease and death that have tracked along hierarchies of race, gender, Indigeneity, class, and ability under Covid-19, this decision also means a failure of the university to live up to its commitments to racial and social justice.
At the very least, we believe that the mask mandate should be reinstated in lab spaces and classrooms where students and instructors may be unable to distance themselves from others. We urge the Chancellor to require masks in these spaces and we stand in solidarity with the TAA, UFAS, ASM, UW System Caregiving Task Force, ACLU Student Alliance, and other groups and departments who are organizing and speaking out in support of continuing the mask mandate.
[You can read the Chancellor’s response to this letter here.]