In order for the College of Charleston community to return to campus safely this fall, things are going to have to be a little different. To help keep everyone on campus protected and healthy, student leaders have written the Cougar Pledge to serve as an outline of best practices for students, faculty and staff. And one key component is the promise that every member of the CofC community will wear a mask in campus buildings and populated outdoor spaces.
“The Cougar Pledge is something that we hope will serve as a guide map to help students know what is expected of us,” says Jeremy Turner, president of the College’s Student Government Association (SGA).
Alicia Caudill, executive vice president for student affairs, says College administrators engaged student groups like the SGA to create the pledge as a way to give students a voice and ownership around practices aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 on campus this fall. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the College has delayed the start of in-person instruction to Sept. 14, 2020.
“We have incredible students and student leaders. We really wanted this to come from their ideas and input, as we know our greatest success comes when students are involved in crafting our expectations and responses,” Caudill says. “And, the students wanted to create this pledge because they understand how important these steps are to the success of our community.”
Actions outlined in the Cougar Pledge include:
- To properly wear a face covering when in campus buildings, populated outdoor spaces and socializing with others
- To avoid the unknowing spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask covering respiratory areas, reaching from the top of the nose to the bottom of the chin
- To be cognizant of the surrounding area and maintain a six-foot distance from others
- To not host or attend parties or social gatherings of more than 10 individuals
- To disinfect personal areas and properly discard all trash upon entering and exiting every public workspace
“The purpose of the pledge is to share clear guidelines that will help the College promote safety and health during the pandemic,” says Caudill. “It reinforces that the success of this upcoming year relies on all of us joining together in a collective effort. The pledge also reflects what our students expect from our community, laying out those expectations and asking that we all do our part in helping us achieve them.”
Students, faculty and staff will be asked to take the pledge through a digital form accessible via the website go.cofc.edu/cougarpledge. To show their support, campus members are encouraged to post their commitment to the pledge on social media using Cougar-inspired visuals and #CougarPledge.
“We’re trying to make this a rallying cry for the campus community to say we’re all in this together and no one will be left behind,” says Turner. “No matter how big a challenge we face as a campus community, we always come out of it stronger.”
The Cougar Pledge is the latest in a series of initiatives the College’s SGA has taken this summer to encourage mask wearing as a public health effort amid the coronavirus pandemic. Under Turner’s leadership, members of SGA wrote a letter in June to Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg supporting a mask requirement for the city. Charleston City Council approved a mask ordinance that went into effect on July 1, 2020.
SGA also joined forces with the College of Charleston Panhellenic organization in early July to support a social media challenge promoting mask wearing among student organizations using the hashtag #MaskMonday. The Black Student Union, Collegiate Curls and the Charleston 40 are among the student groups that have participated.
The goal of those efforts, says Turner, was to showcase the strong support among CofC students to wear masks and practice social distancing both on campus and off.
“While wearing a mask may not be the most fun thing to do, it is the safest thing we can do to return to campus. It’s a small thing to do to protect our fellow students and professors,” he says. “I wanted to make that clear to others outside the campus community and to show that we are all united in wearing masks and making everyone safe.”
And that’s a message that English Professor Simon Lewis, who serves as the speaker of the College’s Faculty Senate, feels strongly about, too – so much so that he coined the phrase “No Mask, No Class,” a mantra students will hear and see often when they return to campus.
“In the absence of therapies and a vaccine, mask wearing is one of the few things we can actually do that all the experts agree can have a significant impact on lowering the rate of infections,” says Lewis. “It’s a relatively minor inconvenience to have to wear a face covering and to have to constantly remember to wear one, but the effect on limiting transmission is well worth it.”
The Cougar Pledge, says Lewis, will help normalize the use of masks and create a positive culture of compliance on campus. The mask requirement is also being added to the College’s Student Code of Conduct.
“The pledge is absolutely critical in that regard,” he says. “I will be encouraging faculty to endorse the pledge, too. The virus doesn’t care whether a wearer is a student or a member of faculty or of staff, and will take advantage of any dropping of our guard in our defense against it. We all have to wear masks if we want to keep the virus at bay.”