By Garrett Cote
The wait is finally over. Springfield College is mask-free, for the most part, once again.
On April 4, the College sent out an email to inform students, faculty and staff that masks were no longer required in the classroom (per instructors request) and other academic buildings on campus for those with up-to-date vaccines.
For the past two full academic years, aside from the final month of this semester, masks have been strongly enforced upon everyone in each building on campus. Now, after waiting patiently and adhering to each COVID-19-related guideline Springfield has released, that is no longer the case – and each member of the campus community can get a glimpse of their classmates’ smiles.
With cases drastically decreasing over the course of this semester and weather continuing to linger towards spring-like temperatures, if there was ever a time for the College to ditch the masks it was now.
“I think it was inevitable,” said Andrew Kozikowski, a professor of English. “We’ve been doing it for almost two years. It’ll give folks who are already probably burnt out with school and other things something that’s pretty normal. At least it takes (worrying about mask guidelines) off the table. That may help reduce some of their stress and give them some more passion, which I can appreciate.”
For professor of communications, Kyle Belanger, he wasted no time letting his students know masks were optional for them. He was pleased with how Springfield handled the guidelines over the course of the past four semesters, and is excited about the next few weeks with a mask-free environment.
“I’m personally appreciative of the new direction that the institution has given professors,” Belanger said. “I’m grateful that throughout the last two years, the institution has, in my opinion, done a great job of following guidance from public health guidance across the city – and blending that with the unique needs of a college campus. I’m happy with the flexibility it provides professors.”
Belanger isn’t worried about his teaching style changing now that classroom settings seem to be shifting towards a sense of normalcy. He’s simply thrilled to be able to connect with his students on a deeper level, and the masking update has restored his level of comfort in the classroom.
“Now, more than ever,” Belanger began, “as the college has sort of sent the signal that it’s okay for professors to feel free to exhibit their own levels of comfort in the classroom again, it has sort of reinvigorated my feelings of comfort to respect everyone’s space – to walk more freely in the classroom. I just appreciate what this seems to be signaling on a more global level.”
As allergy season picks up steam and other common colds continue to make appearances in everyday life, Kozikowski hopes his students are able to self-recognize when they should put a mask on based on how they’re feeling. That notion is vitally important when it comes to keeping the classroom sickness-free, COVID or not.
“I try to pay attention to who comes in the room and see if someone seems to be exhibiting symptoms of being sick,” Kozikowski said. “I just kindly ask them to go get checked out. But if they’re wearing a mask, that’s a different story, they can stay in the classroom. Because people do get sick, even if it’s not the Coronavirus, I understand that.”
The most important thing for Belanger moving forward is for him to consider those who choose to continue to wear a mask in the classroom. Creating a safe environment for them is priority number one.
“The best thing that I can do is encourage students who aren’t feeling well to wear masks,” Belanger said. “And those who are electing to wear masks when healthy are encouraged to do that as well, and they won’t be seen as different. I have two children with different comfort levels, one still wears a mask and the other doesn’t. The best thing is to create an environment in which that is supported and fostered.”
Photo Courtesy of Springfield College