Updated: Sep 11, 2020
With surrounding colleges such as NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill going fully online after experiencing an influx of COVID-19 clusters, the Meredith community has been reminded of the importance of upholding community standards. “We are already seeing an uptick in cases among Meredith students and employees. We do not want to see that trend continue,” stated Jean Jackson in her Aug. 28 email to the student body. Another consequence of the rising case counts has been the appearance of the student-run @MCNoMask Instagram page.
The @MCNoMask Instagram page is a collection of photos of students on campus who are not wearing face masks. The faces of those in the pictures are edited to include a mask and then published on the page. When The Herald spoke to the creator of @MCNoMask, they said that “while the account is just for fun, it’s showing the volume of students who have completely disregarded new campus policies…I wanted to use this account to spread awareness and remind everyone about the importance of wearing a face mask at all times on campus, even in pictures.” With the Community Standards being new to students, the consequences for those who break them are unprecedented. In the page’s biography, there is a petition calling on Meredith to hold students accountable for disregarding the Community Standards, focusing on expectations when students are on campus. “When you return to campus, it is not an option to follow these guidelines. It is mandatory to protect our community,” the petition states. Last week, the creator of the petition, Ashleigh Millinder, ‘23, says she was contacted by Dean of Students Ann Gleason about taking action against students who violated community standards. Though not affiliated with the @MCNoMask page, Millinder said that she is “very happy with the administration's quick response to the petition and willingness to discuss the concerns I and my fellow students have.” In the eyes of Millinder, this is considered a victory.
As students continue to attend classes and live on campus, the need for everyone’s contribution to safety is something that college leadership has emphasized. As said by Dean Gleason, “We all have a responsibility and a role in taking actions to decrease the spread of COVID-19.” Local and state ordinances, along with Meredith College community standards, have been modified to protect students outside of private residences. These new guidelines include the three W’s — wear a mask, wash your hands often and wait six feet apart. Students found responsible for violating the community standards must face sanctions outlined in the Meredith College Student Handbook and Honor Code. While students are encouraged to report acts of misconduct, “anonymous social media accounts are not managed by the college and are not considered a source of information that can prompt a violation,” said Dean Gleason. Instead, she recommends the use of “constructive and productive strategies” to focus the conversations around community standard violations in a more respectful way, rather than through social media. This, she said, is because “social media is often not the most effective platform for productive and difficult conversations to occur.”
This sentiment was echoed by a student who has been posted on the @MCNoMask page. “[We need more] just general internet courtesy on both sides,” she said. “We all do things wrong every day, and if we were all posted on Instagram when we did something wrong, it probably wouldn't be a platform. I don't think in this instance it's necessary to be mean.” She agrees that the mask guidelines should be taken seriously; however, it can reach a point when punishing a violation is ridiculous. She continued, “For instance, if you're in a building or walking around people, wear your mask. But for me, standing on the fountain around only people I knew were being safe, I don't feel like that's a punishable offense.” Freshman Rosemary Vega Escutia disagrees: “It’s...concerning to see that many students are justifying not wearing a mask in pictures because of the fact that they live with the people in the picture.” She continued to say that just because you live with someone doesn’t guarantee that you are the only person they come into contact with. “People go off campus, visit other friends and see their families.” She begs her fellow students to “wear your mask, please.”
The @MCNoMask Instagram page is part of the many social media movements happening on campus. The trend of viral online movements has been happening since the early 2010s, according to Dr. Amie Hess, Head of the Sociology & Criminology Department at Meredith. Although the original intention of the @MCNoMask page was for fun, the creator considers this page a social movement, even if it’s not as significant as some of the other greater movements happening during this time in history. Dr. Hess thinks the intention of the page is an attempt to hold people accountable for socially deviant behavior, but could also be interpreted as a form of shaming since they are using a public platform to do so.
@MCNoMask’s creator said that they want students to be reminded that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and some people can’t afford to move again. “It wouldn’t be fair if the actions of some students affected everyone else on campus, especially those who have continued to follow the rules,” stated @MCNoMask’s creator. With most movements, a counter movement or culture develops to disrupt the movement. Dr. Hess pointed out what that means for @MCNoMask. “From what I've read in the comments section of the pages, the attempts to shut the pages down have been threats to call on formal institutions of power (i.e. the legal system),” Dr. Hess said. “When a movement is calling into question the status quo, advocating for disruption, the counter to that narrative is that things are fine the way they are.” As seen with the surrounding schools, if the counter culture continues, Meredith could go fully virtual this fall.
When asked how long @MCNoMask will run for, the creator replied with, “Probably not much longer. I hope students are starting to realize how important it is to continue to wear a face mask.” Dr. Hess also expects this page to fade overtime due to the low following and post interactions. “Social media allows for fast and easy movement-building, but those same features make sustained actions over the long term harder to achieve,” Dr. Hess explained. Although there have been positive and negative responses to the page, @MCNoMask’s creator appreciates all the supportive comments and messages.
By Jeanine Carryl, Staff Writer, and Rae Hargis, Contributing Writer