UI students, professors respond to mask usage after first day back

On Aug. 19, Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague issued a mask mandate for all public spaces. However, the University of Iowa cannot comply with the mandate under state law.


Gabby Drees/The Daily Iowan

Two students are seen talking after class in the English Philosophy Building at the University of Iowa on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. While masks are not required, some students still opt to wear masks on campus.

Kate Perez, News Reporter

Though masks are not required on the University of Iowa campus, some students are still choosing to mask up.

When the first day of classes arrived on Aug. 23, the approach toward masking in university buildings was confusing for many. The number of students who chose to wear masks, however, came as a surprise to both the student body and staff alike.

The UI is the only Big Ten university that doesn’t require masks.

After not wearing one at the start of the day, UI freshman Hayden Hanneman, who said he is fully vaccinated, was taken aback by the number of students wearing masks.

“Typically, I wear a mask, but walking to class this week I haven’t seen people wearing masks, so I didn’t think anyone else would be,” Hanneman said. “I really did not, especially because at the Kickoff at Kinnick [event] it seemed no one was wearing a mask, so I was surprised to see more people wearing masks in classrooms.”

Hanneman was not the only UI community member surprised by the increased mask usage. Rebekah Kowal, department executive officer and UI professor of dance, was concerned after seeing minimal masking this past weekend on campus. But she said she later saw many students donning face coverings.

“I think there’s some fear among the faculty of, ‘Oh no, here we go again, we’re gonna have to fight,’” Kowal said. “But when I walked into campus, I saw a lot of students around dorms carrying masks and I could see them putting on their masks as they were going into their various buildings.”

Kowal said she sent out an email to university dance students encouraging them to wear masks a day before classes began. The result was 100-percent compliance, and no one had a complaint about mask usage, she said.

Susan Meerdink, an assistant professor of geography and sustainability sciences, tweeted that when requesting masks on the first day of UI classes, she “got eye rolls and dramatic sighs.”

“I taught 135 students today. The two rooms were packed with no open seats. Only about 40 students had masks…” the tweet read.

Dylan McLaren, a freshman, walked into one of his classes without a mask, but he said he decided to put one on after seeing other students with masks on.

“Mentally, I’m still in late March, April, May, July, when they were telling us this really wasn’t a thing anymore,” McLaren said. “I see people with masks, but it doesn’t quite register, so then when I saw someone putting one on I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, cases are rising I should probably do that too.'”

McLaren said he’ll wear a mask if it means students get to have a more normal school year.

Kowal said she believes students understand the importance of their actions during this uncertain time.

“There’s a sense of community and responsibility and this feeling that it can all get shut down and we all have a lot at stake if that happens,” Kowal said. “I think our students understand that in order to do the things they love, they need to cooperate and know that we’re all in this together.”