We have reached a hopeful milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 28, masking is optional on all Pitt campuses. While this represents a return to a semblance of normalcy, we must be thoughtful as we make the transition back to indoor spaces in which many will be unmasked while in close proximity to one another. It is important to recognize that this change will impact members of the Pitt community differently. Not everyone will respond to the lifting of the mask mandate in the same manner. Some may feel a sense of relief or liberation, while others may experience a heightened sense of anxiety or vigilance. It will be important to recognize and manage both the impacts on, and reactions of, our students and colleagues to the new posture. To address the issues that may arise, the Teaching Center is offering the following suggestions:
- Emphasize the right of each individual to choose whether to wear a mask or not – no questions asked. We need to continue to exercise grace and empathy towards others at this moment of change.
- Determine your own and your students’ comfort-level. Talk about the changes and how different people feel about it. Recognize that disabilities and illness may be invisible, and that people’s feelings vary about different kinds of risks. Students may have different opinions; encourage them to consider others’ perspectives.
- Present the reasoning from the CDC and CMRO which led to the changes on the Pitt campus. Reiterate the message that Pitt is following the best medical and public health advice available, and that masking is highly protective to the person wearing the mask. Remind everyone that we may need to reinstitute a mask mandate should conditions in the communities in which our campuses are located worsen again.
- Work with students to collaboratively create or revise ground rules for interaction. One of the best ways to ensure that you and your students are as comfortable as possible is to work together to establish shared rules for interaction. These might address seating and social distancing, group work, and communicating and respecting others’ boundaries and preferences.
- Prepare for changes to and accommodations in classroom activities. Some students already have DRS accommodations for their classes. Instructors must continue to honor these accommodations. Other students in your classes may not have an official accommodation plan, but may still be uncomfortable with unmasking and other changes. Give serious consideration to their concerns and needs. Consider how you might facilitate classroom interactions and activities with students with varying comfort levels with masks. For example, you might propose that students leave the classroom to go to a location that allows for more physical distancing to complete a group activity, then return at a specific time. You could also create online spaces for students to collaborate using Canvas or Google Docs.