By Emma Reilly
On Aug. 13, Washington College’s Contingency Planning Group announced its updated campus-wide mask policy. The revised guidelines require all WC students — regardless of vaccination status — to wear a mask when inside public areas on campus.
The change may have caused anxieties for students who were expecting a more streamlined return to pre-COVID-19 norms on campus this fall.
“A while back we were thinking that once everyone got vaccinated, everyone was going to be okay,” Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. Sarah Feyerherm said.
The emergence of the delta variant changed that thought process.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the highly transmissible nature of the variant poses less of a threat if both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear masks indoors.
The decision to modify WC’s guidelines in conjunction with the CDC’s recommendations was “a no-brainer,” Interim Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Greg Krikorian said.
Despite the possibilities of increased COVID-19-related anxieties, the WC community seems prepared to integrate this additional precaution into their in-person experience.
“I think we’re all used to the idea that there are certain things that are going to have to be sacrificed, or at least different,” Krikorian said.
The return of the College’s mask mandate will not deter students or faculty from re-establishing the sense of community that WC is known for.
“Regardless of masks, I think the vast majority of us are excited to be around more than a few human beings,” Krikorian said. “People are starving to make connections and friends.”
This sentiment was echoed by senior Peri Bertolami, who said they are “just excited to be back and to be able to have a somewhat normal senior year.”
A hunger for community has been especially evident amongst the incoming freshman class.
“[My mentees] are just really excited to be somewhere that’s not their house,” senior Erin Jesionowski said. “I don’t think masks are a huge factor into it.”
According to Dr. Feyerherm, the class of 2025 has demonstrated a notable sense of solidarity as they simultaneously tackle the transition to in-person and to college.
“I’m excited to see the sense of belonging to a class that I’ve seen with this group,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
Students’ desires to develop interpersonal relationships are accompanied by anticipation for in-classroom instruction.
The “trade-off” between wearing a mask and having class in-person is worth it, according to Krikorian.
Athletics, as well as academics, will benefit from close to normal operations. According to women’s soccer player and junior Lauren Maynor, wearing a mask is just another step towards ensuring a successful season.
“We’re excited to be back on campus, and we’re doing what we can to get a full season in because we haven’t had one in almost two years now,” Maynor said.
Some students may have more worries related to COVID-19 policy changes than others; however, the College will host a range of activities both in-person and virtually to help students get involved on campus, according to Krikorian.
In the end, masks won’t prevent WC students from having a successful semester.
“I don’t care if we have to wear full gas masks and hazmat suits,” Jesionowski said. “I’m just really excited to be here.”
Photo by Izze Rios