Castleton University’s mask mandate was lifted earlier this month, and campus is once again aglow with the smiling faces of Spartans — from Huden to Leavenworth and everywhere in between.
In an email on March 9, Dean of Students Dennis Proulx wrote to students, staff and faculty that the mandate would be lifted at 4:30 p.m. on March 11.
“This decision came from Dean Proulx and the overall system that he works with,” said Student Government Association President Ryan Boeke. “He checks in with the CDC pretty much every week and him and I spoke on it… so we turned it to optional.”
Boeke, a senior from Colorado, said the decision to end the mandate on a Friday afternoon was made to allow students, staff and faculty to decide over the weekend what personal choice they would make regarding mask wearing. It was important to Proulx and others that everyone felt safe and free to continue wearing a mask if they chose.
“Members of our community should be empowered to use a mask or ask others in their presence to do so where and when it is important for them without question, pressure, or negative repercussions from others,” Proulx wrote in the email.
He added that the COVID-19 policies remain fluid, that certain situations may require masks when requested by professors or others, and that the mandate could return if deemed necessary.
But for now, students are enjoying a big step towards normalcy with the absence of masks and the presence of smiles, noses, cheekbones and chins.
“It’s nice to be able to see people interact,” junior Julie Leppo said. “I’m a psych major [and] we’re talking about how you read so much into people’s facial expressions. But with the mask that was really hard.”
Like Boeke, Leppo sees the end of the mandate as a step toward the end of the COVID-19 chapter in history.
“Hopefully this is the last hump of COVID,” she said.
Another Colorado native, athletic training major Natalie Simecek, said she was also glad to hear the news.
“I think the general consensus is we’re just over [mask wearing],” Simecek said. “What’s the point at this point? I think most of us are vaccinated and boosted.”
Martha Coulter, director of the Wellness Center, recently shared her thoughts regarding the campus finally lifting the mask mandate, even though the Wellness Center still requires them.
“Students have been suffering for a long time with isolation and loneliness and students are badly in need to be connected to each other, so being able to put down masks in classrooms, if professors allow, is something that is coming at a time that is really helpful for students’ emotional lives and social lives,” she said.
Coulter shared that she and Proulx have attended a weekly meeting of Vermont University and Healthcare professionals and Vermont Department of Health leadership to discuss COVID trends and policies.
“We’re really impressed how well students worked to help keep each other safe,” commented Coulter with a smile.
Addressing optional masking, Coulter stated, “Individuals need to assess their own level of risk to determine whether it would be wise for them to continue wearing a mask.”
Senior Jacob McCarthy was one of many students who was really looking forward to the end of the mandate.
“It’s refreshing that we’re almost back to normal,” he said. “Not having the annoyance of the masks and being able to actually see people’s faces is a good step in the right direction. Hopefully it stays for a while.”
The mask mandate could go from a distant memory to reality again anytime, and the signs reminding those on campus to wear masks still hang in residence halls and instructional buildings.
Masks are still seen in hallways and classrooms as people do whatever they deem necessary to keep themselves safe and comfortable, but the light at the end of the COVID tunnel may finally be visible after two years.
Boeke certainly thinks he can see that light.
“Ultimately, I think it was just refreshing to see everyone’s faces again and to know that this is a step out of a global pandemic and a step in the right direction,” he said.
Jess Heinrichs contributed to this report.