Over winter break last December, I was given the opportunity of becoming a member of the Student COVID-19 Accountability Board. On the board, a handful of students convene with members of administration to provide feedback on how administration is handling their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to receive answers we students can bring back to our peers.
At an early meeting, the topic of community policing mask wearing came up. Administration was looking for ways to encourage students to police other students on their mask wearing. Ultimately, it largely came down to the administrators telling us, students, to call each other out when we see someone improperly wearing or not wearing a mask.
This immediately was worrisome to me. Firstly, we’re a small school, but we’re not that small. Early intervention with anti-maskers could be accusatory at the very least and dangerous at the most. The thought was terrifying.
The idea felt like administration was pushing the burden of obligation off of themselves and onto students. If it’s the students’ responsibilities to ensure everyone is wearing their masks properly, then administration cannot be faulted when no one does.
When I raised these concerns, I was met with an analogy from one of the top members of administration: If I’m in a dangerously high speeding car with someone, wouldn’t it make sense for me to tell that person to slow down?
I was shocked into silence and didn’t give a rebuttal at the time. Instead, I silently accepted this as an answer.
In the months since then, this cavalier response to my genuine concern will occasionally pop into my head. This is especially true in moments when I hear about maskless gatherings or I see people with masks beneath their noses in line at the Eat Shop. I have begun to deconstruct exactly why this felt like a false analogy to me.
For starters, I wouldn’t be getting into a car with a stranger who I didn’t trust to drive safely. Translating this from the analogy to real life, I feel plenty comfortable asking my friends to wear or adjust their mask.
My friends are all roughly of the same understanding as me when it comes to wearing a mask. In the rare instance that they would not be wearing a mask properly, I know they won’t take offense to my request and they won’t start an argument.
I can’t say the same thing of a stranger.
Furthermore, the lack of police in this analogy is noticeable. Anyone who has driven on the highways between Jackson and Albion can tell you that if you are going a dangerous speed, you’re going to get pulled over by a state trooper, regardless if there is someone else in the car telling you to slow down.
Instead, in this analogy, the campus operates without police officers pulling drivers over. Students are expected to police other students on their mask wearing and there remains little, if any, consequence for those who choose to go without it.
Instead, this leaves us with a community that is either apathetic towards mask wearing after enduring a full year of a pandemic or afraid of the consequences of causing conflict.
This is an unacceptable state to be in as the state of Michigan has doubled in positive cases over the last three weeks and the new COVID-19 strain has made its way onto Michigan State University’s campus.
Administration needs to help relieve the burden of the students who already faithfully wear their masks and follow COVID-19 procedure. They need to step in and enforce mask wearing and give consequences for those who do not.
Many thanks for this incisive takedown of a problematic policy. The false analogy you expose will join the pantheon of logical fallacies I use as examples in my advanced writing course at Albion!