Mercer announced an updated COVID-19 mask and vaccination policy Aug. 12. The school now requires masks for unvaccinated students, employees and community members in indoor public spaces, but for individual departments and classrooms, the guidelines are a bit vaguer.
Each academic department is allowed to determine whether they will require masks in classrooms, regardless of vaccination status. This has resulted in mask mandates that vary by classroom.
Several academic departments at Mercer are requiring masks in all classes, including the political science, journalism and media studies, sociology and English departments, which Elizabeth Harper is an associate professor for.
Harper says she fully supports her department’s decision to require masks.
“Masking is a very easy and concrete way that we can care for each other,” Harper said. “I will miss the ability to read students’ expressions, but I would much rather have students masked and physically present in class than unmasked and on Zoom or, worse, in the hospital.”
Unlike the English department, the business school has been going by the university’s COVID-19 policy, meaning each professor in the department was able to decide whether to require masks in their classrooms.
Laura Boman, an assistant professor of marketing in the business school, started at Mercer in 2020 shortly after completing her doctorate.
“I’ve only worked here during a pandemic,” Boman said. “It was a big adjustment to go from being a Ph.D. student to being a professor during a pandemic.”
Boman has a 6-year-old son at home with a history of epilepsy that is unable to be vaccinated.
“I ask my students that they please wear a mask in my class,” Boman said. “So far they’ve been very compliant, I think that telling them my reason why helped a lot.”
During the first week of classes, Boman put a photo of her son alongside her mask policy in her introductory PowerPoint in hopes of encouraging students to wear their masks.
“I was trying to appeal to them to say, ‘This is not about just all of us, it’s about people that are outside of this room too,” Boman said.
Harper agrees with the university’s decision to allow individual departments to make decisions regarding masks.
“Mercer students and faculty are a conscientious bunch,” Harper said. “They want to care for each other, and they want to do what is right.”
According to Boman, the business school has been mixed — some professors are requiring masks, some are not.
“What I do in my classroom, it’s protecting me and my son,” Boman said. “There’s a lot of different perspectives, a lot of different people on this campus. I’ve got to do what’s right for me and my family.”