'It's really weird': Scenes from the first day York College dropped its mask mandate
Editor's note: The York Dispatch is running a series of stories written by student journalists as part of a mentorship program with York College. In this story, various student journalists fanned out across campus to report on the first day the college ended its COVID-19 mask mandate.
York College President Pamela Gunter-Smith announced last month that masking would become optional in classrooms.
Two years into the pandemic, the change effectively ended the mask mandate on campus, following an earlier update that relaxed guidelines and only required masking in classrooms. College officials, however, warned this may not be permanent.
“Individual faculty could continue to require masks in classrooms and labs,” Gunter-Smith said. “If we detect a concerning rise in cases, we may reinstitute our mitigation efforts.”
The president could not be reached for further comment.
Reaction to the change has been mixed, with some students happy about the change and others believing the school is too quick to relax the guidelines.
Members of The Spartan staff interviewed staff and students across campus to gauge their thoughts and feelings about masking and campus life, more broadly, during the pandemic.
– Ben Weyman
"It’s really weird to see people’s faces," said Joellina Stewart, in the hall on her way to her next class. "The majority of people in class are not wearing masks, I am just to be extra cautious. It is also weird to see people’s faces, whether they grew facial hair or remember what they look like. Same thing with the professors.”
As a visual learner, she said, the hybrid classes weren't helpful and she often got distracted during online classes at the beginning of the pandemic.
Nursing student Allie Prizer was walking back to her apartment after a stressful Monday. The pandemic has been a struggle — twice she came down with COVID, which she described as an awful experience.
"Missing all of the orientation days, failing exams for clinicals and just overall being tired from being sick," she said. "Then I got COVID the day we were supposed to come back to school, missing out on all the lab experiments, to then be sent out to the hospital with little experience.”
During clinicals, she found herself caring for COVID patients.
"It’s even worse when most of the people were not vaccinated," she said, "and could have prevented themselves from being as sick as they were."
Having experienced a "regular" semester prior to the pandemic, Prizer said the transition to online could've been handled better. It was rough, she said, as the students and teachers all struggled to figure out a proper schooling system.
– Vaughntay McGraw
“The transition has been a lot to handle," said nursing student Corinne Minunni, as she sat in Starbucks inside the Humanities Building, waiting for friends.
For her, the hardest part was having to take classes via Zoom without accessing campus resources, such as the testing center. COVID made her more considerate of others’ space and hygiene in general, adding that, “I didn’t put hand sanitizer on nearly as much as I do now.”
In response to the first day back without masks, Minunni said it was kind of weird.
“The past two years I haven’t shown the lower half of my face,” she said.
She still grabbed her mask on the first morning without a mandate as a “force of habit.”
– Anna-Grace Rowland
Grumbacher Sports and Fitness Center
As students walked into the Grumbacher at York College early in the morning, the fitness center looked a little different than it has the past two years.
"Honestly, it’s a great feeling to see no more masks, numbers going down and mask regulations being dropped,” said Bobby Sautner, a junior marketing major.
Saul Sanjuan, a senior in computer science, said COVID had changed his life in terms of personal experiences and family-related issues.
“It has been really hard, while at first it was really hard to adapt to because it’s something that my generation has never experienced and it was more stressful to deal with.”
He then positively added, “Finally being able to kind of go back to normal, I could say it’s been better and that’s what I want to see.”
This feeling wasn’t unique to Sanjuan and Sautner, as it has been a positive environment so far on campus. It looks like many more people are happy and smiling again in the classrooms and many students have been meeting outside to enjoy the maskless York College campus.
– Andrew Reever
Schmidt Library was an ideal place to see the new mask guidance in action because of all the foot traffic. Most people went unmasked as they came and went.
“I’m very excited to go back to school with no masks because it has been so long since I was able to walk around and see everyone’s faces," said freshman Josh Turner. “I think the masks hindered people talking in class, so this new rule will make participating for everyone easier.”
But there's still a bit of hesitation — and a willingness to be considerate.
“If someone in here asked me to put a mask on because I am near them, I absolutely would," said junior Kevin Tanzosh, who went maskless.
– Chris Hulsart
Grumbacher Sports and Fitness Center
Alex Lema, a senior engineering major, enjoyed seeing faces again.
“It’s nice to see people’s mouths again when they talk," he said. "It was sometimes hard to tell who was talking.”
But Lema won't forget the pandemic experience, the many Zoom meetings he shared with friends during quarantine nor the TikTok dance he learned for the college's Instagram account.
Raquel Jaoude was also at Grumbacher: “That first semester in the pandemic was awful,” she said. "Still, it didn’t mess up her academic path, as she will be graduating this semester."
– Zach Siegel
"The mask debate got annoying but most people just wanted to be safe," said Ryan Makowsi, a senior marketing major, as he walked out of the dining hall after lunch.
“Overall, the last two years have been an adjustment but haven’t been too crazy," he added. "I didn’t mind the masks."
Removing the masks, however, was surprisingly natural.
“It was a little weird seeing faces because we’re so used to being distant and covered," he said, "but there was an indirect normalcy that we all snapped back into."
Lastly, Makowsi said that the pandemic “impacted my education tremendously. Most of us in college didn’t get the most out of it. Rather than having hands-on work and classroom learning, it seemed less engaging and we didn’t have an ability to reach our full potential.”
– Ulices Samaniego
"It’s been weird to look around and not seeing people wearing their masks in the classroom," said senior Hana Yoseph, who was on her way to her second class of the day.
She's not entirely comfortable with the change.
“I personally want to wear my masks just because I don’t know … I feel a little cautious, but it does feel nice too at the same time just because you haven’t seen anyone’s face in a hot minute," she said.
Yoseph added: “I know seeing my professor’s faces was interesting being like, ‘oh that’s what they look like,’ but overall I’m OK with it, I guess, as long as I’m wearing mine.”
In class, political science professor Javier Aguayo said it was nice to see his students' faces.
"I don’t think I would have been able to identify some of you walking down the street [without masks on],” he said.
– Alyson Hatfield
Lora Snyder sat in the dining hall enjoying a late lunch. As the administrative assistant of the Office of Student Activities and Orientation, she's always interacting with students.
“The masks brought out different sides of people," she said. "You could see who was uncomfortable in not wearing them and who did not want to be wearing them.”
Snyder said she does not believe education for the students was affected that much, but many had different comfort levels in the classroom that was the part that affected students the most. Some did not want to go to classes, fearing they would get sick even while wearing a mask.
For student Josiah Williams, who sat in a booth nearby, the pandemic simply became normal.
“My education wasn’t really impacted negatively,” he said. “It wasn’t that big of a deal to wear a mask in the classroom for me.”
– Breanna Hoffner
Hanna Rudick said the pandemic made her more patient and compassionate with others. For herself, the pandemic made it difficult to focus on her studies — particularly in virtual classes.
“It is and was a very scary time, and I think we all needed some compassion,” she said.
Another student, Tate Miller, said he found himself becoming lazier and taking more days to sit in his room and Zoom into class rather than going in person so he didn’t have to pay as much attention when the pandemic hit.
“It’s so nice to finally be back and see everyone’s actual faces and not masks,” he said.
Nonetheless, the pandemic has made him more cautious in his daily life.
“I still find myself washing my hands more often, wiping down high-contact surfaces and being more aware of my surroundings,” he said.
– Autumn Miller