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Mask enforcers: OSU expects students, faculty to report people not wearing masks — and there's no clear penalty

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Masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

This is why Oklahoma State University is issuing a mask mandate for all indoor spaces during the fall semester. But how will it be enforced?

This is where the students — which OSU is effectively turning into mask mandate enforcers — come in.

“We are asking all community members to be an active bystander in addressing any concerning behavior they see in our Cowboy community, including the university’s expectation to wear facial coverings,” said OSU vice president of student affairs Dr. Doug Hallenbeck. “All community members must take personal responsibility in the health and safety of our community. Respectfully informing or reminding individuals when you see them not wearing their facial covering should be the first step before reporting the concern.  We do not (want) students to get in trouble over the mask policy, but we do expect students and others to abide by the policy.”

So if a student in the Student Union isn’t abiding by the mask policy, another student is expected to approach them — which could violate social distancing — ask them to wear a mask, listen to their response and if the maskless individual doesn't comply, the student who approached them is expected to either report them to the student conduct office or find a nearby faculty member who will do it.

But what happens then.

“Like any alleged policy violation, Student Conduct will address the concern through the process outlined in the Student Code of Conduct,” Hallenbeck said. “In line with the philosophy on addressing student conduct, the response to student’s failure to comply with wearing facial coverings will seek to educate on the university’s expectation and understand the reason the student has not been complying. 

“Any action plan put in place is individualized to the student and based on the severity of the situation.”

Some students don’t feel comfortable enforcing the policy, however. In an O’Colly Twitter poll, 72.3% of respondents said they would not partake in reporting other students to the conduct office. The poll had 874 voters.

“No (I don’t want to report other students), because you should be smart enough to be wearing a mask if you’re going to college,” said OSU student Solen Spitzer in a tweet.

The vague nature of the student conduct penalties concerns some students. In order for the mandate to work, some say the policy should have clear punishments.

“There is no stated penalty for not wearing a mask other than being put before code of conduct,” OSU junior Fox Nelson said. “And code of conduct requires other students or faculty to first file a complaint and then that complaint takes time to get reviewed and actually come to anything and then in the meantime, you have a student in a building who’s not wearing a mask and could potentially be a vector (for disease spread).”

Even still, the university is committed to its message and think it’s the right way to go about this. They don’t want students to feel penalized. They just want to keep people safe and responsible.

“Our message is more about personal responsibility and holding each other accountable and not just reporting concerns to Student Conduct,” Hallenbeck said. “We are not asking students to be a ‘snitch.’”