Editorial: Students are Back on Campus and so are Their Masks

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Editor’s Note: The editorial article in this week’s print is not the correct article intended for this week’s issue of The Whit. We apologize on behalf of The Whit staff for the mistake.

After two and a half semesters of Zoom calls, sweatpants and virtual presentations, Rowan University has finally opened its campus to fully in-person learning for the Fall 2021 semester. For some, this means rekindling the camaraderie we experience between a classroom of peers chasing the same dreams; for others, it’s the chance to get involved in student life from beyond the constraints of a computer screen. 

Whether it’s as carefree as enjoying your lunch on a Student Center sofa, or as committed as returning to the endeavors of Greek life, this semester means high hopes, new relationships and greater opportunities for the Rowan community. However, the long-awaited transition to pre-COVID campus life now comes with a few post-COVID adjustments:

Vaccinations.

On May 6, 2021, The University announced that all students must be vaccinated before returning to campus for the Fall 2021 semester – either having received both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson.

In an effort to encourage hesitant students toward receiving the vaccine, The University also announced an incentive of $500 credit toward full-time students’ course registration bill for this semester and an additional $500 credit toward residential students’ housing bill – so long as they provided proof of vaccination by Aug. 7. 

And it seems as though the incentive – or the potential of being dismissed from The University without it – was motivation enough to get vaccinations rolling among the student body. According to The University’s official vaccination rate records, nearly 82% of students taking in-person classes have been fully vaccinated as of Sept. 3 – with only 8% of students seeking religious or medical exemption.

Weekly COVID-19 testing for those who have opted out of receiving the vaccine will continue to be enforced moving forward this semester. Tests will be scheduled and overseen by The Office of the Dean of Students, and will take place weekly in the Chamberlain Student Center’s Owl’s Nest. 

According to The University, “Students who do not comply with testing will be held accountable through removal from in-person classes, revocation of housing and dismissal from The University.”

But it doesn’t quite stop there.

Masks – the 2020-born accessory that we love to hate. 

Although Rowan University originally announced that vaccinated students and faculty would not be required to wear masks indoors, in the interest of public health – and in compliance with the CDC and Governor Murphy’s recommendations – The University later announced that all students, staff and faculty – vaccinated or not – must wear a mask in order to return to in-person learning. When visiting classrooms, lecture halls and laboratories⁠—or when in the company of an unvaccinated individual⁠—masks must be worn. Outdoors, however, or when indoors and able to social distance, the masks can come off. 

And while Rowan’s updated mask mandate was set to last for only the first two weeks of the semester, university safety guidelines and requirements — much like the virus itself — seem to be ever changing as the days progress. As of Sept. 7 – after nearly one week back on campus – an extension of the university-wide mask mandate was announced – and will now last through the end of September. 

A mask seems a small price to pay, however, for a taste of normal life on our campus.

So, what are we looking forward to returning to this semester? 

For those in need of a little guidance, you’re in luck. The University’s offices to support student success will, once again, be providing in-person services – including the Office of Career Advancement, the university advising services, peer tutoring and success coaching

Athletics have made their comeback as well, with fall sports resuming in person for the Fall 2021 semester. The Whit’s sports editor, Brianna MacKay, is particularly looking forward to attending in-person sports games this semester, as well as, once again, being able to conduct face-to-face interviews with the players.

In-person dining options will also make their return – with a few adjustments. According to the university’s Fall 2021 student guide, “In an effort to best meet the needs of the community, mobile ordering (Grubhub) has been expanded to incorporate all current dining locations, including the addition of advance order/to-go offerings from Glassworks Eatery at Holly Pointe Commons.” 

Beyond this, self-serve dining selections will now be modified to full service. There will also be a temporary suspension on reusable goods – such as to-go cups and containers — presumably, in order to minimize contact with individuals’ personal belongings and prevent further spread of the virus. 

However, according to recent comments by Dr. John Nwangwu, World Health Organization consultant and professor of epidemiology and global health, reusable cups and containers are safe to use. Ultimately, Nwangwu noted that the risk of plastic pollution caused by banning said reusable goods is actually greater than the risk of COVID transmission by continuing to use them. 

At the very least, we can all enjoy a meal in The Market Place or a cup of Pete’s coffee in the Student Center pit – a routine-turned-luxury. 

Naturally, all in-person services will remain flexible as The University continues to follow CDC and state guidelines. In a statement released by University President Ali Houshmand last month, he noted that, “Still—because there is so much at stake—we will proceed with abundant caution. We will anticipate, adapt and innovate. We will remain ready to do what public health experts advise to protect the Rowan community and our neighbors.”

So, while campus life may not be 100% back to normal, we’re getting as close to it as we can. 

Welcome back.

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