Students, faculty report surprise, disappointment at mask-wearing on first week of classes

Students and faculty members noticed minimal mask-wearing around campus where social distancing and other mitigation efforts are no longer in effect. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Walking on campus amid large crowds may seem like a return to normalcy, but for history professor Kees Boterbloem, the lack of mitigation efforts on campus is uncomfortable and worrisome.

“The university declined to introduce obligatory masking. These were poor decisions, which is putting it mildly,” said Boterbloem. “I understand that USF, like the other public universities in Florida, did not want to incur the wrath of the governor, but I wish they would have at least followed the example of the various … Florida school boards in requiring indoor masking for all working and studying before term started.”

The university reopened to full capacity Monday without the mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing mitigation efforts compared with the previous academic year, and students, such as international studies and sociology major Harold Guedez, felt a combination of nerves and enthusiasm about his return to a full campus.

“Being on campus was exciting, but I was definitely surprised at the amount of people back and walking on campus for the first time in around a year and a half,” said Guedez. “I’m happy but nervous at the same time because of the possibility of outbreaks due to the lack of mitigation efforts.”

Cameron Buchanan, a junior majoring in marketing, witnessed what the absence of mitigation efforts looks like firsthand in his classes this first week.

“I knew there were going to be people not wearing masks on campus this semester, but I was genuinely shocked and uncomfortable to see the majority of the students in my lecture class without masks,” said Buchanan.

When reflecting on being back on campus, Boterbloem felt uncertain and fearful for what the future looks like for those coming back to campus amid the pandemic.

“I feel deeply saddened. We will never know the amount of people who will directly or indirectly fall ill because of the opening of USF at this time,” said Boterbloem. “[This is] a time when the pandemic is at its all-time worst peak in Florida.”

Boterbloem plans on returning to Microsoft Teams if he or any of his students get sick even though he believes the online mode of teaching is ineffective.

Last fall, 32.5% of classes were offered in person for students while 67.5% were online. This fall, 80% of the courses offered will be conducted in person, while only 19.5% will be offered online, drawing a larger number of students to campus.

While crowded classrooms and the big lines across campus have bothered some, others are not as concerned with the resumption of full operations for the semester. Michael Paszkiet, a junior majoring in health sciences, has not had any initial concerns about returning to campus and, at times, being surrounded by people without masks.

“As of right now, I’m not too worried about being in my classrooms at full capacity again,” said Paszkiet. “Even when I encounter students who are not wearing masks, I don’t feel concerned because I know I’m wearing my mask.”

English professor Emily Jones also found herself filled with more excitement than fear with the opportunity to teach in person again.

“I’ve found that returning to campus has made me very excited, like the first-day jitters I used to feel when I was new to teaching,” said Jones. “For me, I think this isn’t so much about COVID-19 as it is about getting reacclimated to the classroom environment.”

Jones believes her students will follow basic health and safety measures, so she decided not to impose any modifications on her usual class structure aside from applying aspects of the online format used last academic year just in case classes go back online.

“As for the physical setup of the classroom, I’m simply trusting my students to wear masks and be considerate, which so far they have all done,” said Jones. “I think using online aspects will help us be ready for a more seamless transition in case we have to switch modalities because of the delta variant.”

Gabriella DiFabio, a senior majoring in criminology and psychology, fears there’s a chance classes will be switching online based on her visits to USF’s Campus Recreation Center, where she saw many people not wearing masks.

“Each time I have gone to the Campus Recreation Center, there are not only large numbers of people inside at the same time, but there are also so many people without masks,” said DiFabio. “Seeing that has made me feel worried that there will be an outbreak on campus soon.”

Alexis McDonald, junior majoring in English and political science, has had the opposite experience so far as she has been surrounded by people wearing masks indoors at popular places on campus, such as the library.

“I spend most of my time at the library when I’m on campus, so I am really glad to see students wearing their masks,” said McDonald. “It’s encouraging to see this, but I do still have my concerns.”

Some students, such as sophomore Ferdous Murphy majoring in chemical engineering, have been surprised and pleased to see so many students wearing masks in his classes since none of his teachers have fostered setups to decrease the spread of the delta variant.

“Unfortunately, none of my classes have any specific accommodations in place to prevent students from getting sick, but to my surprise, many students in classes were wearing masks even though they got vaccinated,” said Murphy.

World languages professor Martin Lalande isn’t worried about teaching full classes and has decided to not change the setup of his classroom unless there is an outbreak among his students.

“Unless the delta variant becomes an issue in class, then I will continue to teach my classes regularly,” said Lalande. “We needed to be back in class, we needed this human interaction again.”

Despite the fact the fall semester just began, Boterbloem feels unsafe on campus and hopes everyone will get vaccinated and take health precautions.

“I do not feel at ease returning to campus, so I just request that all students wear a mask and get a vaccine immediately,” said Boterbloem.