Three years ago, it was almost impossible to find a college student who wasn’t forced to wear a mask in all campus buildings. Students seeking to experience a traditional college environment were instead expected to treat college as if it were a biohazardous wasteland.
Despite mounting that mask mandates did next to nothing to decrease the likelihood of contracting COVID-19, students were expected to mindlessly obey. Over the past two years, however, most colleges have gradually phased out these mask mandates and relaxed their constant promotion of COVID-19 vaccines.
It seemed as if students would finally be able to experience college as people had for decades: a potentially life-changing experience full of academic enrichment, career advancement, and social interaction. While the overwhelming majority of schools currently operate similarly to the way they did prior to 2020 — generally free of mandates, social distancing, and other COVID-related measures — it appears that the COVID-19 measures that students all too quickly became familiar with in 2020 and 2021 are slowly becoming a reality once again.
The first instance of COVID-19 mandates sprouting back up on college campuses came from Morris Brown College, a historically black college in Atlanta. Just before the beginning of the 2023–24 school year, Morris Brown released several statements on its social media platforms outlining new COVID-19 measures, such as mandatory mask-wearing, contact tracing, and new quarantine guidelines for all students and staff, along with mandatory five-day isolation for any individual who contracts COVID-19.
Although Morris Brown rescinded its mask mandate on September 7 because of on- and off-campus backlash, it is important to note that the guidelines were announced on August 21, 17 days before they were rescinded, and the original post stated that the measures were intended to last only 14 days. This would suggest that had there not been such harsh backlash, the mandates would have lasted much longer than the originally anticipated 14-day window. After all, “15 days to slow the spread” turned out to be much, much longer than 15 days.
The mandates implemented at Morris Brown would not be of much concern if they were the only example of a college reinstituting such policies. However, other colleges have appeared to be following suit.
On August 25, another historically black school in New Orleans, Dillard University, also implemented mask mandates for all students, administrators, and school visitors as part of its effort to supposedly “protect them” from COVID-19. Information regarding Dillard’s mask mandate is limited, but there doesn’t appear to be any time limit on Dillard’s mandates, and no update has been provided by the university suggesting that the mandates have been lifted.
Most concerning, however, is the seemingly complicit attitude students have at Dillard with this mandate. In an article published by a local news channel interviewing Dillard University students, one student stated in a response to the new mandates, “It’s fine with me. I don’t really like getting sick. I don’t like COVID. So, I’m OK with masking up when I’m in class.” This belief appears to be common among many students and administrators at Dillard, as there has been very little on-campus backlash to any of these new mandates.
Although the University of Michigan has not indicated that it will be implementing new mask mandates, recent events suggest that the university at the very minimum is entertaining the idea of new COVID-19 measures. In early September, the university announced it had updated its COVID-19 guidelines in the wake of the recent wave of cases.
According to the university’s website, if a student is found to have contracted COVID-19, the student is now required to leave their residence hall and potentially leave campus entirely. The website also states that students who aren’t able to leave campus when they contract COVID-19 may need to move into a student isolation housing location, mirroring similar measures to those seen during the peak of the COVID-19 hysteria.
Although the actions taken by the University of Michigan don’t rise to the level of mask mandates or other particularly pernicious guidelines, it’s important to recognize just how easily the university appears to bend the knee to any level of COVID-19 hysteria, even when it often contradicts evidence and experience.
Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the organization well known for pushing an excessively cautious approach to COVID-19, stated that the new BA.2.86 variant does not appear to be concerning or problematic. The fact that even the CDC does not consider it a threat should signal to all individuals and institutions that the variant is of virtually no concern and that any institutional measures designed to supposedly decrease the spread of COVID-19 would be imprudent and unnecessary.
Unfortunately, universities such as the University of Michigan appear uninterested in the reality of the situation and will likely continue to ignore clear proof that such top-down measures are not necessary to combat COVID-19.
The best course of action for students in such situations is to simply not comply with ridiculous mandates. If students choose not to fight back, it is possible that we will experience another multiyear period characterized by useless mandates and lockdowns that harm and damage many of the people they claim to protect.