Campus goes maskless

Students see each others’ faces for the first time

Saskia Vogelzang, Mary Ramirez, and Laura Gillespie

By Brooke Katen, Seward County Community College

Students came to class Monday without wearing masks. It’s the first time since COVID showed up in southwest Kansas in March 2020 that students have gone without the facial covering.

Abel Ochoa rips up the masks are required sign after the announcement that masks are now optional. (Brianna Rich)

On Sep. 30, the COVID response team met and evaluated the current situation of the coronavirus on the Seward County Community College campus. The next day an email was sent to every student and staff member detailing the updated mask mandate rule on the campus: “Beginning October 2, Seward County Community College will no longer require masks to be worn on campus. Please note: on an individual basis, faculty and staff may still require that masks be worn in their own classrooms and offices/workspaces.”

Clemente Rojo, a nursing major from Moscow, was glad to get rid of masks on campus.

“I do not wear my mask in my personal time because I’m vaccinated so I’m happy the mandate was lifted.”

Ruby Simental, a graphic design major from Turpin, Oklahoma, said wearing a mask during the 100 degree days the area is currently experiencing was harsh. However, she will most likely still wear a mask.

“It was nice to find out we don’t have to wear them anymore,” Simental said. “I will still wear my mask because it just feels weird to not have it on. I also have a lot of teachers that are still making us wear it.”

Students and staff can continue to wear masks if they wish. Staff can require students to wear masks in their classroom as well as in their personal workspace or offices. If a student refuses to wear a mask in the classroom or personal workspace, then instructors can ask students to leave. 

If an instructor asks students to wear a mask in class then the instructor is also expected to wear a mask. Public work areas such as the library, student union, bookstore, gym and conference rooms can not require students or staff to wear masks. Outside visitors do not have to wear masks while on campus. 

“I do have a few teachers that are still requiring us to wear masks but I think their end goal is to continue to keep us safe,” Rojo said.

After the COVID response team met last week, there was a positive case on the baseball team causing almost half of the team to quarantine due to close contact. It is the most people quarantined at one time. The players went home and as of now, there are no new positive cases on the team. 

In public areas on campus such as the library and hallways, it is up to students on whether they wear masks or not. Jessica Headrick chooses to keep the mask on while Harvin Mosquera chooses not to wear one. (Brianna Rich)


The decision to lift the mask mandate was made before the positive case among the baseball team but the decision wasn’t immediately made public. Luke Dowell, vice president of academic affairs, said the response team waited to see if any other students would need to be quarantined or test positive. 

“Most people in close contact or around the baseball team were wearing masks so it wouldn’t have changed the mask mandate decision or who had to be quarantined,” Dowell said.

There were some reservations about removing the mask mandate, but most people wanted to try to get back to normal. Jen Malin, the director of student housing and COVID response team member, said no one wanted to make people feel unsafe or uncomfortable on campus.

“There were some reservations because a few faculty still like having masks,” she said. “That’s why teachers can still require students to wear a mask in their classroom if they choose to.” 

Dowell added that everyone on the response team was on the same page for going without masks but it was still a difficult decision.

“We had the mask mandate at the beginning of the year because the Delta variant was spiking and we had a high risk for spread because of the number of people coming from all over the world,” he said. “We are seeing some positive cases but we don’t have evidence that it is spreading between other people on campus.” 

The COVID response team meets weekly and looks at information from the Kansas Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the Seward County Health Department. SCCC still recommends that unvaccinated people continue to wear a mask, all people continue to practice social distancing, as well as frequent and careful handwashing. SCCC also expects students and faculty to stay home and fill out a COVID report form if they are feeling unwell or experiencing symptoms. 

“We removed the mask mandate because we have vaccinated people, low numbers, housing hasn’t had to wear masks all year and we are still doing well. The close contact for volleyball earlier this year wasn’t a student and the Seward County numbers are constantly watched. We feel the campus is doing really well but it is still expected that if you don’t feel well you don’t go to class, continue to wash your hands, and take responsibility,” said Malin. 

Dowell added that if there is a spike on campus then the response team will evaluate and put masks back in place in order to keep people safe.

This story was originally published on The Crusader on October 5, 2021.