FARGO — An online petition asking North Dakota State University to rescind its mask mandate in classrooms has gained more than 2,000 signatures, and the request could go before the school’s student senate.
The petition at Change.org titled “Make Masks a Personal Choice at NDSU” was launched Tuesday, Aug. 17, the same day University President Dean Bresciani announced face coverings would be required in all classrooms. Bresciani also “strongly recommended” masks be worn in buildings.
NDSU sophomore Breanna Hosman said students should be allowed to choose whether they want to protect themselves from the coronavirus. She started the petition shortly after hearing about the mandate.
“If masks as advertised are meant to protect oneself from contracting the virus, then individuals who wish to protect themselves may,” the petition said. “Those who do not wish to protect themselves may do so.”
As of Friday morning, 2,161 people had signed the online petition. Hosman said she is working with one student senator to draw up a resolution to present to the NDSU Student Senate in hopes it will convince Bresciani to rescind his order.
“The more people we’ve got, the more it’s going to show President Bresciani that we should have a choice in our health decisions as NDSU students,” she said.
NDSU required masks for classroom and gathering areas for the 2020-21 school year, but that expired in time for the summer semester.
Before Tuesday’s announcement, Bresciani recommended face coverings in campus buildings. Teachers would have had discretion in requiring masks in class.
That was before Cass County was moved into the high-risk category for spreading the coronavirus, particularly the highly contagious delta variant that has raged throughout the U.S.
Hosman said she is not anti-mask. She said she would wear one if someone who was at high risk of contracting the virus — someone who was immunocompromised and may not have the same immunity even with a vaccine, for example — asked her to do so.
She recalled missing out on a lot of events high schoolers and university freshmen typically enjoyed before the pandemic. The coronavirus forced the cancellation of her prom and graduation. She did not get the college experience so many students look forward to in their first year.
The idea of not getting a normal sophomore year was upsetting and frustrating, she said.
“I hate to be like ‘me, me, me,’ because that’s not what this is about,” she said. “It’s so much bigger than just one individual, and I’m only one person, but it’s affecting everyone at school. It’s hard to make friends.
"It’s so much more than a face covering. It’s so much more than any mandate. It’s losing out on human connection.”
Student Body President Carl Ludewig said he supports students using their voice on campus, including through proposing resolutions to the student senate. He said he understands there are opinions on both sides.
He acknowledged interacting with other students is important, and the pandemic has disrupted life on campus.
“I know students are tired, and I think everyone is kind of tired of the pandemic,” he said.
Bresciani also noted the importance of interactions without masks in his statement. Along with not being in an extreme situation, like southern states, seeing people smiling and interacting with each other without masks is why he said he didn’t require face coverings in all campus buildings.
“There is value, real value, in being able to interact with other people without masks, and I do not want to underestimate the need for this important human connection,” he said in the statement.
Hosman said she doesn’t believe Bresciani has handled the pandemic well. Though she disagrees with the mandate, she said she still feels empathy for him since he has to make hard decisions while getting pressure from both sides.
Bresciani’s mandate seems to be in line with what health officials are recommending, Ludewig said.
“I definitely don’t envy the decision of President Bresciani,” he said.
Ludewig called the situation difficult, but he said he hopes this is the last hurdle. The best way to get to a point without masks is getting as many people as vaccinated as possible.
“NDSU is an in-person university,” Ludewig said. “That’s how you get the best experience.”
Bresciani has pushed for students to get the vaccine, saying vaccinations are the best way to reduce the coronavirus’ impact. He announced Thursday a $100 incentive for students who were vaccinated.
Hosman said she wanted to show students it’s OK to voice their opinions, noting the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech.
“I just wanted to put my opinion out there,” she said. “I think a lot of kids are rallying around that. I hope that at least, if anything, even if nothing gets done, that I've shown kids that it's all right to share your opinion and to fight for something that you believe in.”
North Dakota Legislators prohibited statewide elected officials, including Gov. Doug Burgum and the state health officer, from implementing a mask mandate. That ban would not extend to public universities or colleges, North Dakota University System attorney Eric Olson said.