By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer
A group of about 30 students took to Fountain Mall Friday to protest Baylor’s mask mandates and COVID-19 testing policies.
The students set up a table, engaged in conversation with passersby and said penalties for missing twice-weekly COVID-19 tests are harsh and discriminatory against unvaccinated students. They also said students should be free to choose if they want to wear a mask or get vaccinated.
Recently, Baylor extended the requirement for unvaccinated students to get tested twice weekly for COVID-19 through Oct. 1. Baylor also implemented harsher penalties for students who miss their test. President Linda Livingstone said in a Presidential Perspective email that students who miss their tests will lose campus Wi-Fi privileges and will be removed from priority registration for the spring 2022 semester.
Los Angeles sophomore Scott Lee said he organized the protest because he wanted to give a voice to unvaccinated students who oppose Baylor’s COVID-19 policies, as well as to promote civil discussion between students with opposing viewpoints.
Lee called Baylor’s mask policies “strange” and said they are “redundant” because they are only enforced in the classroom.
“You’re walking through a densely crowded hallway with no masks, you get into a classroom and suddenly, you have to put a mask on,” Lee said. “That seems more about signaling virtue than actually having a safe policy.”
Dallas sophomore Hannah Payne called the penalties for missing COVID-19 tests “manipulative” and said students should not be punished for their “personal medical decisions.”
“We’re paying upwards of $70,000 per year for a college education, and we’re investing in this place only to be threatened for making a personal medical decision,” Payne said. “If you don’t comply, you will not be able to work on campus — work on tests or on assignments through Canvas. The consequence is do this or you can no longer function in a college environment.”
St. Louis sophomore Aly Mikesell said the entire student body should have to be tested twice weekly, not just unvaccinated students. She said she believes only testing unvaccinated students and giving vaccinated students gifts and entering them into a prize lottery is discriminatory against unvaccinated students.
Monterrey, Mexico, sophomore Karina Macias said that many of the policies and privileges given to vaccinated students are creating division among the student body and that she attended the protest to “unite the Baylor campus, instead of separating them based on medical status.”
Macias also said that many people, including herself, have medical exemptions to the vaccine and that Baylor is “almost punishing” them for not getting the vaccine.
“It’s almost like they’re treated like less of a human because of their medical choice, which should not be the case,” Macias said.
Frisco sophomore Elise Willingham said she believes the testing policy is fair. She said saying someone is discriminated against for not getting vaccinated is a “warped perception of what discrimination is.”
“Discrimination means that you are fundamentally being treated different for something that you cannot control,” Willingham said. “People are discriminated against for their skin color, sexuality, whatever it may be, and I don’t think that discrimination applies in this scenario, because if you can choose to do something that would prevent you from being ‘discriminated,’ then it’s not discrimination.”
Richardson graduate student Jon Abel said the mask policies are necessary to protect immunocompromised students. He said calling the testing penalties discriminatory “reflects fundamental selfishness.”
“It’s not oppression,” Abel said. “At worst, it is a minor inconvenience. These people are acting like it’s a fundamental violation of their rights, when at the worst, it is an inconvenience designed to keep them from risking someone else’s life. Freedom is important — but freedom from the things that matter, not freedom from a piece of cloth over your face.”
Payne said she believes Baylor should take the concerns and opinions of students who don’t agree with their policies just as seriously as the students who do.
“I want [Baylor administration] to know that we respect them, but we respectfully disagree,” Payne said. “We don’t want them to dismiss our concerns and opinions. Our opinions are just as important to be heard as other students who are in support of their policies.”