AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A group of Augusta University faculty wants to send a message to the University System of Georgia about safety concerns in the classroom and their thoughts on the need for stronger efforts to be made to prevent COVID.
Anyone who takes a walk through the middle of campus now will find chalk messages telling people to mask up. Faculty members are calling on the Board of Regents to implement a mask mandate or allow local campuses to do it.
Associate Professor of Sociology Dustin Avent-Holt organized the protest on the Summerville campus. He told us, “We’re being asked to sit in a room with unmasked students for an hour, 1:15.”
The professor said on any given day when he and his colleagues are instructing students, only about 10 percent of them wear masks. And almost everyone is walking around without a covering outside too.
“That’s what we need to have is some sort of a mask mandate that is going to create universal masking so that we can slow the spread of this virus,” Avent-Holt said.
He added that he and at least half of AU’s more than 1700 faculty members support a mask mandate. So, they made their message known on campus Monday, with plans to make noise all week. The group wants the Board of Regents to implement that mandate across all 26 University System of Georgia campuses or allow local campuses to implement any kind of mitigation strategies.
Augusta University released a statement saying it is “strongly encouraging everyone who is able to wear a mask and be vaccinated.”
As Augusta University Health and hospitals nationwide care for an increasing number of individuals and families affected by COVID-19, we join our state and local colleagues in strongly encouraging everyone who is able to wear a mask and be vaccinated. Vaccines have proven effective in reducing the risk of severe illness and hospitalizations in those who become infected with the virus and, as the state’s only public academic medical center, it is our sincere hope that our commitment to transparent reporting of COVID-19 patient and student data trends will provide a mechanism for informed decision-making and dialogue.Augusta University
Freshman Christopher Guzman weighed in on what some of his teachers are doing. “I wouldn’t mind if masks were required. I don’t have one on because of comfort, but I don’t see a problem with it.”
Another Freshman, Rimi Svedberg, shared her thoughts too. “I know I’ve had COVID since I’ve been here. I’ve been out. Most of my friends have had COVID. It doesn’t feel safe. I don’t think that they’re doing proper regulations.”
The American Association of University Professors organized similar protests at 17 of the 26 schools within USG. And Avent-Holt said that he is personally calling for a vaccine mandate too.
“We’re letting the Board of Regents know these are the things we need to do and we’re asking them to hold up their end of the bargain,” he said. “Provide safe campuses so we can teach effectively, so we can conduct the research on campus effectively. Let us do our jobs by you doing your job in creating effective public health policy.”
Avent-Holt said faculty members will hold protests Tuesday at 11 a.m., Wednesday at noon, Thursday at 1 p.m. and Friday at 2 p.m.
We reached out to the University System of Georgia. They have not responded.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps