College Democrats and College Republicans on the mask mandate

A photograph of College Republicans and College Democrats logos.

College Democrats and College Republicans logos. Retrieved from …

Julia Wille, Student Government Reporter

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, there has been a debate over the effectiveness and legality of mask mandates. At the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, there has been a mask mandate in place since March of 2020. In the last academic school year, 2020-2021, there was a mandate on campus and in the state of Wisconsin. There were few in-person classes and few on-campus activities for student groups to keep the student body from contracting COVID-19.

Over the summer of 2021, Wisconsin lifted the mask mandate and so did the UW system. However, just before students were back on campus, there was an increase in COVID-19 cases and the UW systems reinstated the mask mandate on all its campuses, including UWL. The current mandate is that all individuals inside campus buildings must always wear a mask. There has been a mixed response to this continued mandate, especially by UWL’s political organizations, the College Republicans, and the College Democrats.  

Since the beginning of this school year, College Republicans have taken part in multiple protests to try and have the mask mandate lifted. UWL student and head of public relations for College Republicans, RJ Friske, spoke about their opinion on the mandate. In general, College Republicans and its members took the position of disagreeing with the need for a mask mandate on campus. 

Friske said, “I think it is out of the bound that they [UWL] should be able to control with students. I have seen some stuff that shows masks are not effective. I think that whether they are effective or not, the university should not be able to mandate masks.” Some members of College Republicans believe UWL should only be able to recommend wearing masks and not mandate them.  

College Republicans also brought up an incident where UWL Chancellor Joe Gow was allegedly seen not wearing a mask at the UWL football game. In response to this Friske said, “We aren’t surprised but we are upset and it’s not only him, a lot of people in power don’t wear masks in public places. It just shows that people who are in power don’t follow the same rules as everyone else, which makes me think even more that it’s less of a medical thing and more about control.”

He also said that the control that the university has over the students by forcing the mask mandate is their main concern. He said that while College Republicans understand they are trying to do the right thing, especially last year, they don’t think it is within UWL’s reach to mandate masks. Friske said, “It really just feels like they want to control us, and they don’t care about the health benefits.” 

The College Republicans are looking for options to get the mandate lifted at UWL. The first step they would like to see happen would be to see a goal that the administration wants UWL to meet. Friske said, “There are no goal lines at all so we don’t know what we need to do as students to get rid of the masks.” They had once thought the goal of 70% of students vaccinated would result in a lift in the mandate. Now, they are looking for an incentive to students for how they can roll back the mandate.  

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a mask mandate in the state and across the country up until this past summer. Friske said, “I have always been against the mandate, but I am more against it now.” He said that the College Republicans continue to get less tolerant of the mask mandate as the goal line and what needs to be done continues to move backward. Friske said, “College students are not an at-risk community and I think it is dumb that we act like we are with mandating masks in the classroom.”  

Over the semester the College Republicans have been taking part in chalking and protests on campus against the mask mandate. Some of these chalking and protests have received some backlash from students at UWL that have resulted in the chalk drawings being erased. The College Republicans are claiming that UWL is not allowing them to practice free speech. In response to that, the College Republicans are working with a lawyer group named Wisconsin Law and Liberty, to try and have their rights restored.  

As a concluding statement from the College Republicans, Friske said, “We are already at the goal line, so are we just going to be like this for the rest of our lives. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, but I am genuinely wondering what the goal is.”

Taking an opposing view to the College Republicans is UWL student organization College Democrats. UWL student and College Democrats President Jenna Dinkel also spoke and gave their opinion on the mandate. “The mask mandate on campus is important and it keeps people safe, it trusts the science and that’s the most important thing,” said Dinkel.

In response to claims against the legality of the mask mandate, the College Democrats believe that the mask mandate doesn’t take away individual freedom and is entirely legal for UWL to have in place. Dinkel said, “It’s a measure to keep people safe and if you’re not wearing a mask, that does affect other people. It can cause a lot more damage than some people think.”

The College Democrats want the mask mandate to stay in place at UWL and are in full support of the administrations and UW systems decisions to keep it in effect. Dinkel said, “Right now COVID-19 is a moving target and there are people that have the vaccine that are getting it and spreading it without knowing it. I think we need to continue wearing masks until it’s safe and most importantly we need to listen to the science.”

She also acknowledged the fact that as the pandemic has progressed, the information on best practices to stay safe have evolved, but said, “of course as new information is discovered new recommendations will be made, we still need to trust the science.”  

Dinkel also discussed the legality of the mask mandate and how it is being handled by UWL. Dinkel said that College Democrats want the administration to continue to work to keep the students safe. “If all of UWL opened and masks were optional, that’s 10,000 people, that’s one-fifth of La Crosse. We have COVID-19 under control because of masks. We are allowed to have in-person classes because of masks. All of these things could be taken away from us if we get rid of the mask mandate. If we want to keep a semi-normal school year, it’s not that hard to wear a mask,” she said. 

Dinkel also addressed the idea that college students are not an at-risk population. She said that someone cannot always know what other people are going through and what they are exposed to. “Maybe the person you come in contact with would be fine, but you must also think about who it affects around them,” said Dinkel. She said that by not wearing a mask, someone could be exposing more than just the specific people they see, but also everyone else in their lives that could be at high risk.  

College Democrats believe that mask mandates are in place to help keep individuals safe. They disagree with the concept of masks being about control and believe that masks are a necessity to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep everyone safe. Dinkel said, “It’s not about control, it’s not about forcing a liberal agenda, it is simply about trying to keep people safe. Please just trust the science and follow the rule because it is not that difficult.”