UI student governments respond to regents’ COVID-19 rules

The University of Iowa’s student governments said they feel like the rules are “stacked against” them when navigating COVID-19 incentivization and mitigation on campus.


Ayrton Breckenridge

University of Iowa Student Government office door as seen on Jan. 26.

Sabine Martin, News Editor

The University of Iowa strongly encourages mask-wearing and the COVID-19 vaccine, which is the most that the university can do, with the state Board of Regents holding the gavel to mandate masks on campus.

Regents President Mike Richards lifted the state of emergency for regent-governed universities on May 20, ending the requirement of masks for all faculty, staff, and students.

Moala Bannavti, UI Graduate Professional Student Government president, said she thinks the UI is doing everything it can legally to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among faculty and students, but as a UI leader, she has non-negotiables about the pandemic.

“The question becomes, ‘If people’s lives are at risk, are we all going to just sit around and stop and stare at the law, or are we going to do something beyond that to save lives, even if it’s intermediately?’ Like I said, we all have to have a hill that we’re willing to die on,” Bannavti said.

Bannavti said she has been speaking every day to university personnel about COVID-19 to do everything she and her executive board can.

“Somebody is going to have to lose, so let us all be on the right side of history when this is over and take the side of public safety,” she said. “We’ve seen time and time again, where things that were law and legal were not correct. And we, as a country, have rectified them.”

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the UI is the only Big Ten institution that does not require masks on campus.

Undergraduate Student Government President Regan Smock said it has been a frustrating time to work within the rules. The UI has not been able to collect information on which students are vaccinated.

“It felt like playing within a game where it was completely stacked against you,” Smock said. “But it’s been kind of honestly, like, a great learning experience for me to be able to think outside of that, and how we can still do stuff.”

Smock said the UI’s student governments plan to announce a COVID-19 vaccination incentivization program for students to win prizes like Apple products, a tour of Kinnick Stadium, dinner with UI President Barbara Wilson, meditation app subscriptions, and private yoga lessons.

“I think something else, and one of the almost hardest things to work with, is just not being able to collect any information about vaccine status,” Smock said. “Because if students are, like, 90 percent vaccinated, we don’t know that, and it’d be a very different situation.”

GPSG Vice President Walt Wang said a lot of the graduate and professional students that he has talked to are “very disappointed right now.”

He said after going to the UI’s Campaign to Organize Graduate Students Union meeting last week, COGS members said they feel that there has been a breach of their contract and safe employment.

“The fact that they happen to feel that way indicates a problem because students aren’t supposed to feel that their workplace will pose a danger,” Wang said.

Smock said while she thinks the general population of Iowa City would opt for a mask mandate against the regents’ orders, the UI administration has done the most it can right now.

“We’ve been able to speak with President Wilson so many times about it,” Smock said. “I really do think she’s doing an amazing job with what she’s handling, especially like her first year and how to navigate a very different political climate than her last state. It’s a tough thing, and honestly, having that door be so open has been really nice.”