The Associated Students of Madison, the student government body of the University of Wisconsin, met Wednesday morning in a closed-door meeting with UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor to discuss alterations to the university’s COVID-19 policy.
The suggested alterations follow the decision to lift the campus mask mandate starting March 12.
After UW’s announcement, ASM Chair Adrian Lampron said student groups that closely work with ASM — Embassy International and MadNews — reached out with uneasiness about the health risks associated with lifting the mandate. ASM worked with them to create a list of “compromised asks.”
Lampron and Shared Governance Chair Reez Bailey represented ASM in Tuesday’s meeting and presented several areas of concern for future COVID-19 policy to ensure the safety to those who will feel uncomfortable or unsafe without the mandate, Lampron said.
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ASM suggested students not be discouraged or punished for still wanting to wear a mask after the mandate expires, according to the meeting notes. This suggestion was to ensure students can still feel safe in instances where not wearing a mask may be advertised, Lampron said.
“That was primarily the concern brought to us by folks who were worried about performing arts classes or language classes where a situation where professors encourage people to not wear their masks,” Lampron said.
ASM also expressed a need for professors to be flexible about students missing class not only due to feeling unsafe, but also with the increased spread of infectious diseases that come after lifting masks, Lampron said.
Additionally, ASM proposed the university set up a shared governance process that would allow instructing staff to apply for accommodations like classroom mask mandates, according to Lampron’s notes.
In response, UW spokespersons in the meeting said professors will not be able to mandate masks, but they can ask students to wear their masks for the protection of family, friends, themselves and more.
ASM, concerned with the wellbeing of students, proposed students be permitted — without financial or academic penalty — to drop a class or withdraw from university, Lampron said.
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To that, the administration pointed to the already-established medical withdrawal process which allows both mental and physical health issues as reasons for withdrawal with a graduated tuition refund.
Lampron said this policy is not sufficient.
“It’s not like everybody who’s feeling unsafe is going to be able to have a medical justification for it,” Lampron said. “I think we’re at a point in the pandemic where people will feel unsafe because family members or someone in their life is at high risk.”
In the meeting, Blank and Reesor offered to provide an optional two antigen tests per student to be available for pickup before and after the spring recess. They said they would also offer KN95 masks to students, which were previously only available for faculty and staff, according to meeting notes.
Lampron said ASM has worked hard to make sure the safety needs and concerns of students are heard since the beginning of the pandemic.
“The general energy by the Chancellor and a lot of other administrators I’ve talked to recently is that they’re very confident that basically everybody will be safe,” Lampron said. “I think there are a lot of people who are less confident.”
Next Thursday, ASM will co-host an event with Amnesty International to gather more people and continue the discussion around COVID-19 safety needs.