Refusal to wear a mask comes with consequences

It is no surprise that face masks have become mandatory at Western Carolina University, but did you know that students can get fined for not wearing their face masks? 

In the WCU Code of Student Conduct, it has been added to the list of items students must follow and if not followed, students can be fined and even expelled for not wearing a face mask properly.

There are five report stages of this process. Each report is given when a student has not either worn their face mask or is wearing it incorrectly. Here are the five reports as followed:

  • First report: results in direct communication with the student regarding the WCU COVID-19 face mask procedure. 
  • Second report: a warning letter will be sent to the student. 
  • Third report: the student must meet with the Department of Student Community Ethics Hearing Officer. Penalties may include a $50 fine and education probation. 
  • Fourth report: the student must meet again with the Department of Student Community Ethics Hearing Officer. Penalties may include probation, a $100 fine and educational probation. 
  • Fifth report: the student must meet for the last time with the Department of Student Community Ethics Hearing Officer. Penalties may include a $100 fine, on-campus housing removal, restrictions on campus and being suspended or expelled from WCU. 

“We are a brick and mortar institution that relies on face-to-face instruction,” said the Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students, BaShaun Smith. “Students shared with us that they want to be here face to face. The Community Standards were created to help us maintain the face-to-face experience for our students.”

Photo Credit: Marlon Morgan, WCU

The mandate was created based on the guidance of CDC guidelines and then later implemented by Chancellor Kelli Brown and University leadership, Smith explained. 

“The Community Standards are not new to our community and the feedback that I have received is that students are excited to be face to face again,” Smith said. 

As of Sept. 27, 28 students have been reported for allegedly violating these community standards, said Smith. 

With any institutional policy change and heated topic such as the COVID-19 pandemic, there will always be complaints. However, according to the Student Government Association President Rebecca Hart, many complaints are coming from students who have seen other students not wearing their masks properly and even wanting a more strict face mask policy than the one WCU already has in place. 

Student complaints are not the only ones being noticed, many faculty and staff have complained as well but not for the same reason.

“The complaints I have heard from faculty and staff are concerning the tough spot they are in with having to enforce the mask mandate,” said Hart. “They don’t want to have to stop class and fuss at people, and they shouldn’t have to. But sadly, there are a few students who are refusing to comply.”

Hart agrees with the mask mandate because not only does the university consider it a necessity to have safe in-person classes, but also events such as football games and homecoming events that students were not able to attend last year. 

“For right now, wearing a mask indoors is a university rule and like every other university rule, there are consequences for not following them,” Hart said. “There would be no way to enforce the mask guidelines without having a reporting process and consequences in place.  The goal of the mask guidelines is not to punish students. It’s to protect everyone in our community, and I think that’s what we need to remember.”

Hart understands that some students may not like wearing face masks, “but the majority are simply happy to be back in person,” she said.