Opinion: Open letter to AU administration: This change can wait
Cosigned by Disability+ Faculty & Staff Affinity Group Leaders, students and faculty members
This article is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.
Sacrificing the most vulnerable of our community for the pleasure of the majority – is that what “a community of care” is, Sylvia Burwell?
As the leaders of the Disability+ Faculty and Staff Affinity group and the Disabled Student Union, we want to publicly denounce American University’s sudden, unethical and autocratic decision to lift the mask mandate without having consulted faculty, students or staff. Representing some of the most vulnerable constituents of our community, but speaking for all who are concerned about the negligent and rash decision-making processes of our administration, we call on AU to retract this sudden endangerment of its community members and reinstate the mask mandate in classrooms and other shared spaces until the end of the spring semester.
We find it especially distasteful that AU has chosen to call this a “less impactful period” — with 1,400 deaths a day, do we really want to minimize the suffering many of our loved ones still experience on a daily basis? With little scientific knowledge about the long-term effects of COVID-19 and the high rates of students with mental and chronic illnesses and other disabilities at American University, do we want to suggest their health, safety and lives are less worthy of protection?
This announcement was published a day after students returned from spring break, from international and national travel to many COVID-19 hot spots in the country and the world. Given what we know about the inoculation period of COVID-19, is five days really enough to “account for any cases that may result from spring break travel”? AU doesn’t even require testing for students returning from travel, which means it might take up to 7-10 days for most students to show symptoms, let alone get tested and isolate.
Placing the onus on those trying to protect themselves and loved ones from infection is unconscionable. Students do not feel comfortable asking a professor to mask up, who they know might not “give them full consideration.” It is painfully clear that AU is trying to abnegate responsibility — as it did when it tried to begin the semester without required testing, and as it has continued to do so when it hasn’t enforced testing requirements.
If AU truly wanted to take a phased and measured approach to changing mask requirements, it could have chosen to allow for less protective masks first, such as surgical and cloth masks, or allowed unmasking in select locations that nobody would be forced to be in. Students should not have to choose between failing a class and getting COVID-19. Does the “burden” of having to wear a mask really outweigh the safety of our community, Sylvia? We cannot understand who is being prioritized here, but we know it is not those who we have promised to protect.
We repeat: reinstate the mask mandate until the end of the spring semester. We promised students, faculty and staff in January that we would protect them and we should not fail them now. This change can wait, and it must.
Disability+ Faculty & Staff Affinity Group Leaders (Tanja Aho, Anna Cook, Charley Fogel, Marc Medwin)
Disabled Student Union at American University
AU PRIDE Executive Board
AUSG Women’s Initiative
SEIU Local 500 Staff Union Representatives: Aubrey Hill, Sam Sadow, Linda Golden, Geneva Walker
Arthur Stallworth, Co-Chair People of Color Affinity Group, First Year Advisor/AUx Instructor
Jason D'Angelo, First-year Advisor, AUx Instructor
Roshan Abraham, Co-Chair AUx2 Working Group, First-Year Advisor/AUx Instructor
Caroline Figueiredo Hausmann, First-Year Advisor, AUx Instructor
Jodi Ross, First-Year Advisor, AUx Instructor
Carry Osborne, First-Year Advisor, AUx Instructor
Michelle Swiger, AUx1 Co-chair, First-Year Advisor & AUx Instructor
Tara Rison, First-Year Advisor + AUx Instructor
Isabelle Grey, Cyber Security Engineer III, OIT
Jordan Maidman, Cybersecurity Engineer II, OIT
Amanda Choutka, Senior Professorial Lecturer, Writing Studies Program, Literature
Eileen J. Findlay, Professor of History and Chair, Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies
Anthony Angelo Gualtieri, Adjunct Professional Lecturer, Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies
Nina Enagonio, Graphic Design Coordinator, School of Public Affairs
Fiona Brideoake, Assistant Professor of Literature
Gavin Frome, Graduate Assistant for Teaching Support, Center for Teaching, Research & Learning
Amy Barber, Professorial Lecturer and Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Robert SanGeorge, Career Advisor, AU Career Center & School of Public Affairs
Garrett Fojtik, First-Year Advisor, AUx Instructor
Lydia Morris Fettig, Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer, Department of Literature
Leila Hernandez, Customer Service Specialist, AU Career Center
Christina Juhász-Wood, Professorial Lecturer, Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies
Dustin Friedman, Associate Professor of Literature
Mary Ellen Curtin, Associate Professor, Department of Critical, Race, Gender, and Culture Studies and Program Director, American Studies
Lily Wong, Associate Professor of Literature; Critical Race Gender & Culture; Associate Director of Faculty at Antiracist Research and Policy Center
Lisa Dupree, Circulation Services Specialist, Bender Library
Jane Palmer, Associate Professor, Department of Justice, Law & Criminology
Theresa Runstedtler, Associate Professor of History and Critical Race, Gender, & Culture Studies
Johnathan Flowers, Professorial Lecturer, Department of Philosophy and Religion
Marie Spaulding, Senior Career Advisor, CAS and SOE, AU Career Center
Jacob I. Wilson, First-Year Advisor, AUx Instructor
Caroline DeLeon, Assistant Director, First Year Advising
Kirstie Dorr, Associate Professor of Critical Race, Gender and Culture Studies and Literature
Teresa Larkin, Associate Professor of Physics Education, Department of Physics
Ari Pedersen, Laboratory Instructor, Department of Physics
Asia Ferrin, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religion
Quynh H. Vo, Professorial Lecturer, Department of Critical Race, Gender, & Culture Studies
Demitrius Evans, First-Year Advisor + AUx instructor
Editor's Note: The signatures on this op-ed have been updated since publication.