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Wearing a mask will become optional on IUPUI‘s campus beginning this week.

With Gov. Holcomb’s Executive Order 22-02 likely to be the last of 23 consecutive extensions, Indiana’s public health emergency is nearing its end. Indiana University and its affiliated campuses plan on following suit.

Per Indiana University’s online Covid-19 portal, lifting the mask requirement on March 4, “coincides with the anticipated expiration of state and county public health orders on that date.”

The portal lists classrooms, residence halls, IU athletic venues, dining spaces and building common areas as places that mask wearing will be optional on campus. It also cites declining rates of Covid-19 cases, in the state and at the university, as justification for making masks optional in these places.

It’s been nearly two years since IUPUI students last attended classes without face coverings. 

Due to initial mitigation efforts by Indiana University and its affiliated campuses, classes were moved online on March 15, 2020. When campus reopened five months later, IUPUI students, like current junior Noel Burns, regained some semblance of normality.

“I was like cool, great, I want to get back into the swing of things,” Burns said concerning IUPUI’s return to in-person learning for the fall semester of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Burns, a tourism and event management major, would be arriving at an IUPUI campus far from its pre-pandemic form though. Class sizes were intentionally limited and socially distanced. Students were also required to wear masks and undergo mitigation testing to attend class. Additionally, lesson plans for the classroom had to be modified to accommodate students who opted to use Zoom.

Needless to say, things were off, but the changes that befell campus life weren’t that big of a deal to Burns.

“I don’t think it affected me at all,” said Burns over coffee. “I preferred it a little bit because when you step into a new environment, like at the start of school, everyone gets sick.” 

Not everybody shares the same sentiment as Burns, however.

“I think it sucked,” said Katherine Lachowiez, a senior, who was studying alongside Burns at the campus center Starbucks.

Lachowiez, who, like Burns, is majoring in tourism & event management, said that she understood the need for Covid-19 mitigation efforts by IUPUI.However, the move to online classes did alter her typical interactions with the student body for the worse.

“Because I'm from Illinois, I was lucky enough to still be here and live down here and have roommates and stuff. But that was the only school interaction I got that wasn't in a zoom class,” said Lachowiez, before adding, “Nobody talks on Zoom.”

Even with her classes shifting online, Lachowiez noted that she was able to remain somewhat engaged with her studies and that, “what sucked was the pandemic and the Zoom thing. But, the mask itself doesn't bother me.”

“I can’t even imagine being a freshman, though,” admitted Lachowiez.

Undergraduates in their freshman or sophomore year have yet to experience IUPUI classes without some form of Covid-19 protocol in place. 

Making masks optional on campus seemingly represents a step towards a more personal and intimate classroom experience, one which allows students to see the smiles of their colleagues, to witness their laughter, to be just a little bit more human.

For IUPUI undergraduate students, optional masking presents an opportunity to experience college in a slightly more traditional manner. That said, it doesn’t necessarily represent the safest possible alternative.

For now, Burns will continue wearing a mask whenever she finds it necessary. Lachowiez, who is fully vaccinated and graduates in May, is fine with going maskless. And neither of them is in the wrong. 


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