As AU begins a return to in-person instruction, some professors have decided to teach maskless
Students voice concerns over classroom mask-wearing procedures
Community concerns have been raised over some professors at American University choosing to teach maskless. Although many maintain a six feet distance from the rest of the class, some students still have reservations over the safety of this practice.
According to AU’s Fall 2021 Health and Safety Plan, face coverings must be worn at all times, except while “teaching or giving a public speech,” among other circumstances.
Katherine Greenstein, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, is the leader of the Disabled Student Union at AU, and has two professors who teach without wearing masks. They said that neither professor asked permission before deciding to take off their masks.
Greenstein said they believe the University has overlooked the disabled community and is disappointed in the approach to mask-wearing within the classroom. “I wish that [the University] thought about us, and were a part of the people being considered in the decisions,” they said, in regards to the guidelines on professor mask-wearing.
For Greenstein and other disabled students, the transition from remote learning to in-person instruction has been challenging. They were one of several students who appreciated the accommodations given to them during remote learning, including being able to go at their own pace.
They said that after going to the Academic Support and Access Center about the possibility of taking online courses, they were denied that option.
“Remote learning could have been what saved my life last semester. There’s nothing I want more than the comfort of knowing I am not being exposed to people in class every day,” Greenstein said.
Elizabeth Deal, the assistant vice president for community and internal communication, said that any students requesting accommodations should register with ASAC through their three step process, which involves submitting their request through their website, and eventually meeting individually with a staff member.
“We are committed to supporting the academic development and educational goals of all students,” Deal wrote in an email to The Eagle.
Jason Mollica, a professor in the School of Communication, teaches without a mask. He said that he has stressed to his students that if at any time, they should let him know if they feel uncomfortable, and he will return to wearing his mask during instruction.
Ryan Hale, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, holds a different perspective from Greenstein, saying that it is more conducive to his learning when the professor chooses to teach maskless.
“I am a visual learner, and being able to read the professor’s lip is very helpful for me in staying engaged,” he said.
Provost Peter Starr said that professors should use their own judgment when deciding whether or not to wear a face covering.
“We have asked faculty members to exercise their judgment and to be very cognizant of the fact that if students are uncomfortable, they should mask up,” Starr said in an interview with The Eagle.
For professors who choose to teach maskless, the University is “strongly encouraging” faculty to go through weekly surveillance tests.
Starr said that if a student feels uncomfortable bringing up their concern with their professor directly, they should look for outlets that offer more anonymity, such as their advisor or heads of departments.
AU has confirmed 22 active coronavirus cases so far this semester. Starr said that if cases continue to rise, professors could be required to wear masks at all times.
“As a student, I feel uncomfortable … and from a disabled perspective, this is scary for me, and this is scary for my community,” Greenstein said. “We are the ones who are dying right now.”