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Students both protest and praise university mask mandate

<p>Miami announced a change in their mask policy on Wednesday, March 4, loosening restrictions on where students are required to wear masks on campus. </p>

Miami announced a change in their mask policy on Wednesday, March 4, loosening restrictions on where students are required to wear masks on campus.

Miami University will require face coverings indoors for the fall semester regardless of vaccination status. Students have expressed both opposition to and support for the decision. 

The same day the mandate was announced, Miami University College Republicans (CRs) created a petition urging the university to end the mask mandate.

The CRs petition currently sits at 1,071 signatures at the time of publication. The organization released a statement shortly after the announcement expressing their disapproval of the mandate, calling the move “unnecessary from a scientific standpoint” despite the Butler County Health General Health District’s recommendation of wearing a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

“This requirement is not based in science,” the CRs statement reads. “Young people are not vulnerable to serious harm from Covid-19, making this virus a low risk to Miami’s community.”

Madeline Whistler, a junior East Asian languages and culture and international studies co-major, said that type of rhetoric erases the effect students have on the Oxford community.

“People forget that Oxford isn’t just full of college students,” Whistler commented on the university announcement via Instagram. “People of all ages call it home. As students who have had the privilege to choose Oxford to attend college, it’s also our job to protect those who live in the town we enjoy.”

CR Chairman Collin Finn said he also believes the mandate will decrease vaccination rates among students. 

“We know that the vaccine is the best tool we have to protect ourselves from the virus,” Finn said. “By continuing to enforce masks on campus, we’re weakening the credibility of the vaccine to those on the fence about it to begin with. It makes the messaging pretty foggy.”

Despite the university offering on-campus vaccinations to all students and various prizes through the “Your Shot to Win” lottery program, no vaccine requirement has been put in place for the fall semester.

In Butler County, 43.84% of all residents have received a full dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — well below the national average of 57% — according to the Ohio Department of Health COVID-19 vaccination dashboard

With 83 new cases reported on Aug. 5, the number of active cases countywide currently sits at 625. 

Dylan Sexton, a sophomore finance major, worries the university will continue to change its COVID-19 protocol without warning throughout the fall semester.

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“Of course the mandate was frustrating to hear about,” Sexton said. “But the thing that’s even more frustrating than the mandate itself is the complete lack of communication from the university. Why wait to give us this information two weeks prior to moving in? What does this mean for classes returning to in-person?”

But Carole Johnson, associate director of university news and communications, wrote in an email to The Miami Student the university has no plans to return to remote learning for the fall semester.

“The university is planning a robust return to in-person classes and operations for the fall,” Johnson wrote. “While there might be some remote components of classes, most instruction will be face-to-face.”

Evan Gates, a sophomore business economics major, believes the backlash to the return of masks exemplifies a level of privilege among the student body.

“I understand being frustrated,” Gates said, “but when you make it clear that the thing you care more about than your friends and family’s health is a piece of fabric on your face, that really tells me everything I need to know.”

The university’s indoor mask mandate went into effect Aug. 9. 

The CRs are hosting a press conference at 4 p.m. today, Wednesday, Aug. 11, outside Roudebush Hall in opposition to the mask mandate. It will feature Republican legislators from across Southwest Ohio.