The tale of two petitions: students petition current COVID policies

by Amelia Schafer and Evan Burley

Two Simpson College petitions have been circulating online, one asking for the removal of the mask mandate and one asking for a vaccine mandate. 

The student petition to lift the campus mask mandate was created on Oct. 26 by a group of four sophomores, Maizee Lindsey, Emily Shultz, Mackenzie Magnan and Bailey Lubben. 

“Members of the Simpson College student body protest the mask mandate put into effect by the administration. Transitioning into adulthood is about making your own decisions, especially about your health,” the petition states. “Simpson College is taking away our freedom of choice by requiring us to wear a mask. We respect the individuals in support of masks, but we reserve the right to make that choice for ourselves.”

Lindsey said that the group started the petition after being approached by another member of the Simpson community. 

“We met Thursday night and then we kind of waited until homecoming,” Lindsey said. “Just kind of because there was a lot going on during the weekend. And I was approached by someone and they said, ‘Just do it. I mean, it’s not gonna hurt anything. Just put it out there and see what happens,’ and we’re almost at 500 signatures.” 

Lindsey said that the goal of the petition was to make masks optional on campus for everyone. She said that the petition is about choice. 

“We think that it should just go both ways,” she said. “It’s not that we’re not going to respect people, because if you want to wear your mask, then wear your mask, we’re not going to look at you any differently. We’re not going to judge you, but we think that it should be our own right to do what we want to do and we’re risking our own health, but that’s something that we’re willing to take the risk for.” 

The four said that they weren’t surprised by the number of signatures that the petition has garnered – as of 7 p.m. on Oct. 27, the petition had 581 signatures.

“I think students are just also trying to stand up for ourselves,” Lubben said. “Simpson really pushes like, like this is adulthood. And so if we’re going to like transition, transitioning into adulthood, we could make our own choices, especially your own health choices. So like we said earlier, yeah, we are putting ourselves at risk, but I feel like that’s a decision that we can make for ourselves and that we want to make for ourselves.”

All four said that they didn’t have a problem with the mask policy last year, they said that they began to become frustrated with the policy this semester as the majority of campus has been vaccinated and policies began to change.

“Going off of last year and then into this year, they changed so many things so fast,” Magnan said. “You know, one, one week it would be: Well, if you’re vaccinated, you’ll be able to take your mask off, you know, but then they changed it to the 80%. But now that the faculty has reached 80% they’re still making the faculty wear their masks.”

Students are currently not required to wear a mask in Kent while seated at a table eating or drinking, something that the four women said confused them. 

“You know, we can walk in Kent, but then where does it go when we sit down? We can take it off. It’s like COVID doesn’t exist when you sit down so it’s just the logic behind it. It is not there,” Magnan said. 

Last week’s COVID dashboard update reported that 78% of students and 85% of faculty on the Indianola campus were vaccinated. 

Simpson has several phases in place for COVID-19 on campus. The campus is currently in the yellow phase, as the COVID-19 vaccination rate amongst students has sat at 78% for two weeks now. Once an 80% vaccination rate amongst students is achieved, the Covid Management Team has said that they will be revisiting the mask policies.

A counter-petition was started later in the afternoon by first-years Atticus Zwetow and Madeline Nelson, responding with what they said was a compromise – Simpson mandating vaccinations for students who want to attend in-person classes without wearing a mask. 

“This a rebuttal to the petition for people who want to not wear masks indoors without having the COVID-19 vaccinations,” the counter-petition states. “We hope these people understand that their actions are risking the health and in some cases the lives, of the students, faculty, and community around them. We would like to ask that Simpson College requires the COVID-19 vaccinations for those students who want to attend in-person classes.”

Zwetow said mandating vaccines for in-person, unmasked classes–while unvaccinated students wore masks or did classes online–was something his high school did and is an option he believes is safest for everyone. 

“If you don’t want to wear masks, you need to get vaccinated,” Zwetow said. “It would, I think, please both sides. I mean, we want people to be vaccinated; they don’t want to wear masks anymore. To not wear masks, you need to get vaccinated. I think Simpson will hopefully make a statement, like bringing up vaccinations and how vaccination rates go up if people don’t want to wear masks and promote mask-wearing.” 

The petition protesting Simpson’s mask mandate says that students and faculty should be allowed to make their own decisions about whether to wear masks, citing “Freedom of Choice,” but Nelson argues freedom of choice involves thinking more about collective needs than individual wants.

“I feel like the term ‘freedom of choice’ is kind of problematic in a way,” Nelson said, “because it’s so open-ended. And for me, my freedom to choose would be to put other people’s safety above my own comfort levels. That’s my freedom of choice. I just go around and hope that other people also put other people above themselves. But unfortunately, we are not seeing that with the other petition.”

For junior Mollie Hinkle, seeing the number of signatures collected by the initial petition in such a short amount of time was disappointing but not surprising. But she also does not believe the petition will budge Simpson’s mask policy due to Crisis Management Team (CMT) protocol stipulating that, with high transmission rates in Warren county, the mask mandate will remain, even if student vaccination meets the 80% threshold.

“Yes, we have been working very hard to get it up to 80%,” Hinkle said. “It sucks, but until Warren county can get its vaccination rate up and COVID cases down, then we’re just going to have to keep wearing masks. Because we have to think about the people outside of the Simpson community that are interacting with us on a daily basis; because their health matters just as much as the health of the Simpson community.”

Hinkle, who is fully vaccinated, is among the counter-petition’s signers. Though she isn’t sure whether Simpson will go through with a vaccine mandate for in-person classes, she encourages others in the Simpson community to still sign.

“Wearing masks are the ways we know we can make COVID better. There are numbers out there that show getting vaccinated, wearing masks and doing as many precautions as you can does work,” Hinkle said. “So if you’re thinking about it, or if you’ve signed it, definitely just keep pushing it. Because even if Simpson themselves don’t make a vaccine mandate, it could inspire friends, family, anyone who sees it to go and get vaccinated. Because maybe they’ll see how big of an impact it actually does have on people.”