Panthers Unmasked: Chapman Ends Mandate


Some never wear them above their nose. Some wear two of them. Some even wear headgear. But Panthers needn’t bother with masks at all. Graphic by Nick Saikley.

Brush those teeth, shave that bum-fluff, and show us that smile. 

Wearing a mask on campus is now a choice for every Chapman student and faculty member, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. Nor do they have to declare themselves symptomless; check-in for campus buildings is a thing of the past.

In one fell March 3 swoop, Chapman President Daniele Struppa sent out a school-wide email announcing that masks would be made optional in all areas on campus, including indoors. But it hasn’t been an easy road for Chapman’s administration to arrive at this decision — nor is it easy for some students to accept.

On Feb. 16, the California Department of Public Health announced that vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks indoors. Case numbers and instances of hospitalization have been low enough to allow this easing of rules to take place. On March 3, new cases numbered 270; on March 15, that number had gone down to 63.

After a string of policy updates, the university made the change after Orange County’s COVID-19 case rate had dropped to the orange or “moderate” tier in the CDC’s county watchlist. The moderate risk tier signifies that fewer than four new cases are reported in Orange County each week.

According to Dean of Students Jerry Price, there was no way of deciding COVID-19 policy that wouldn’t leave some students feeling unheard. 

“Just this week, I’ve received emails advocating for dropping the mask mandate and others advocating for keeping it,” Price said on Feb. 26. “Some want to discontinue the testing protocol, and others want to expand it. The reality is that our student body is as divided on these issues as the wider public is.”

On Feb. 24, a survey was sent out to Chapman students asking whether they were comfortable making masks optional indoors, in an attempt to gauge student opinion on the matter. 

About 60% of students and teachers responded that they would accept lifting the mask mandate, the remaining 40% saying they would be uncomfortable with such a change. However, according to the same survey results, only 53% of Chapman students responded with their opinions at all. 

Twiddling their thumbs, Chapman students queue to get tested. Photo by Daniel Pearson

But that doesn’t mean Chapman students aren’t taking COVID-19 policy on campus seriously. Two Chapman juniors organized a petition to have a supply of masks in every classroom, having encountered a number of students who claim to have lost or broken their masks. One senior, Daniel McGreevy, launched a petition that would require every mask worn on campus to be an N95 or KN95, which are more protective than the usual. 

“Everyone wants things to go back to normal, but that’s just not realistic,” he said. “Wearing masks during a pandemic is realistic.”

Others, however, have questioned the effectiveness of masks altogether. Chapman Republicans launched a petition in October of last year calling for the campus masks to be made optional, not be mandated. The text of the petition argues that wearing masks “makes learning more difficult and contributes to a lost sense of community” for students.


Masks keep you warm as well as safe, it seems. Chapman Republicans’ Instagram post from March 3. Photo courtesy of Justin Buckner.

According to its president Justin Buckner, Chapman Republicans sent numerous emails to Dean Price, President Struppa, and head of the COVID-19 Task Force Harold Hewitt asking for the mandate to be ended. These emails were entering Dean Price’s inbox up to the day the survey was sent out.

But Jerika Lam, professor in Chapman’s School of Pharmacy and an expert in infectious diseases, disagrees with the latest policy change, saying that wearing masks shouldn’t be optional. 

“We should let scientific fact and evidence guide us out of this pandemic,” Lam said. “We should still wear our masks in the classroom setting because we may put those who are vulnerable at risk. We can relax some of the rules if we see a consistent decline in numbers, but we haven’t seen this decline in the past few weeks.”

The doors of Leatherby Libraries, Argyros Forum, Beckman Hall and Dodge College are now passed through unsupervised. Over spring break, the administration discontinued the policy of having students answer Daily Screenings and showing the results to inspectors, Dean Price said in a March 29 email. It is becoming less and less obvious that the university sits in a country still rife with the ‘rona.

Other colleges in Orange County retain more stringent COVID-19 measures. UC Irvine has no immediate plans to repeal its mask mandate for students. Cal State Fullerton, Orange Coast College, and Santiago Canyon College will retain mask mandates indefinitely for students and faculty, regardless of vaccination status. 

Students can continue to receive updates on Chapman’s COVID-19 policy on the CU Safely Back website, under the “announcements” section.

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Huw is a junior Political Science major with Journalism as a minor. He is obsessed with White Russians, terrible slasher movies, and distinctive names (like Slartibartfast).