The staff of the university library have been pointing out the new rules to students since Tuesday, says Front Desk team leader Wim Vuijk. “And if you look around for a moment, you see that people are following the rules here.” One of his colleagues occasionally wanders around to politely point that out to people. While some explanation was needed that morning for students who had missed the news, by noon, almost everyone was wearing a face mask.

Economiestudenten Ysanne en Nick in de UB.
Economics students Ysanne and Nick in the University Library. Image credit: Wouter Sterrenburg

Economics students Nick and Ysanne – who briefly lift the face masks off their chins for the photo – do understand the new rules, although they also see some drawbacks. Nick is ‘not as keen’ to come to the library: “If you are in the library all day, it is not very comfortable to wear a face mask non-stop. But then again, maybe a better face mask would be more comfortable.” Ysanne adds: “For the most part, I’m just glad the UB is still open. In spite of that, I’m going to meet up at my home for a group assignment tomorrow, because discussing things at a distance of one-and-a-half metres with a face mask on isn’t particularly enjoyable.”

Only when something is said about it

Whereas observance of the rules in the University Library is fairly strict, the new rule has not yet sunk in amongst the students in the Polak building. On the crowded first floor, only one seated student is wearing a face mask. Most of them claim to have missed the update from the Executive Board or that the announcement simply slipped by unnoticed. “They send out e-mails all the time. Even though I do my best to keep up, you just stop reading them after a while,” says student Ashe as she works at a large table.

Kerem en Kyvanc merkten in Polak niks van de verruimde mondkapjesplicht.
Kerem and Kyvanc didn’t notice anything about the widened masking requirements in Polak. Image credit: Wouter Sterrenburg

The same goes for first-year IBEB students Kyvanc and Kerem. “E-mail? Face masks when you’re sitting down? Totally missed that,” replies Kyvanc. “We are from Turkey and get all the news about the virus mainly through Instagram and our Dutch friends, but I hadn’t heard about this. I don’t think people will adhere to it very strictly since unless a co-worker draws my attention to it, I’ll soon forget.”

The new rules are not yet entirely clear even amongst the staff. After all, the extension of the compulsory use of masks applies to school buildings, but it is unclear whether this also includes the offices. Two receptionists at the ESL report that in their department, face masks are worn when people move around the room, but not when they are at their desks. “Technically speaking, it should probably be the case, but are we really supposed to sit here for eight hours with a face mask on?”, asks one of the receptionists. “Besides, we already work a lot from home. We also provide facilities for self-testing, so we’re already doing quite a bit to prevent corona. To be honest, after two years, I find it hard to keep up with it all.”

No clarity

De onderwijsgroep van tutor Bhavika Avapa in het Mandevillegebouw.
Image credit: Wouter Sterrenburg

Even when the rules are carefully followed, difficulties still tend to crop up. For instance, university lecturer Asya Zhelyazkova noticed that wearing both a face mask and a microphone led to unintelligible recordings. The material of the face mask rubs against the microphone. Zhelyazkova comments: “At the beginning of the lecture, I heard this from the people who were participating remotely, so with the consent of the students in the room, I temporarily took off my face mask.” But whether this is allowed is unclear to her. She would like to hear if there is a protocol in place for this.

A tour of the third floor of the Mandeville building very quickly reveals that face masks are also largely absent from the tutorial groups. Tutor Bhavika Adapa is about to start her second macroeconomics class of the day. During her first study group, three of the nine students wore face masks on their own initiative. “I saw that there was discussion in the WhatsApp groups whether it should be done or not, but I wasn’t really able to get a clear answer. I never really got any clear advice from the faculty, either.”

Just before the study group starts, a student asks by sticking their hand up what the precise situation is. “So, apparently, it is also mandatory in lectures and study groups,” Adapa replies. “I was just in a lecture where nobody was wearing one,” one of the students pipes up. With a shrug, all of the students then put on their face masks to start the lesson.

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