Mask-optional protocol invites classroom interaction

By Julia Shands, Staff Writer

October 21, 2022

Ouachita’s mask mandate was adjusted on Oct. 6, allowing students, faculty and staff to go without a mask in indoor public common spaces and classrooms. The updated protocol went into effect on Oct. 7, which created a sense of normalcy and enabled campus to witness more of a typical year at Ouachita. Many were excited to go back to a classroom with no face coverings, and several professors were thrilled to catch a glimpse of the normal classroom interaction that they once knew. 

Adjunct professor Quantel Williams helps his Bible Survey students with an assignment in class. Professors hope that the more interactive classroom environments will lead to productive discussions and lessons going forward. (photo by Alex Watson)

Jason Doroga, Spanish professor, began teaching at Ouachita during the pandemic, so he was forced to quickly become accustomed to engaging students with masks on. 

“We’ve been wearing masks since I arrived at Ouachita, and like all of us, I adjusted to wearing a mask in the classroom,” Doroga said. “Over the past year and a half, I think we have learned how to communicate just as well with masks as we do maskless. We communicate so many things without our mouths: confusion, excitement, empathy. It is inevitable that masks were incorporated in how I teach pronunciation, ‘Make sure your mask lowers when you pronounce the word ‘Lima!’’’’ 

Although Doroga has learned how to communicate effectively with masked students, he is curious to see how classroom interaction will be enhanced without them. 

“So now that in some classrooms we can interact with each other without masks, it feels like the first day of school again, all of us eager to interact with one another in what seems to be a more present and more heightened way,” Doroga said. 

Students collaborate on an assignment during class. The mask-optional mandate makes allows students to get to know their peers in a new way. (photo by Alex Watson)

For communications professor Deborah Root seeing her students’ faces while teaching has become the highlight of her day.

“I think I’ve had good interaction in my classes, even with masks on, but now I can see the joy and the attitude of students without their masks on,” Root said. “Seeing my students’ smiling faces makes my day brighter, so I enjoy the fact that I can see people’s faces because a lot of what you communicate is nonverbal, and with masks on, that’s more of a challenge.” 

Communications professor Jackson Carter feels as though he’s meeting many of his students for the first time.

“For me, it has been wonderful to walk into class and see everyone’s face,” Carter said. “This has been the first week of my Ouachita career where mandatory mask policies haven’t been in place, and it has felt like I am re-meeting many of my students. It’s been incredibly exciting.”

Carter believes that wearing no masks in the classroom benefits both students and professors when it comes to teaching and learning material. 

“I think actual face-to-face interaction has been the most helpful when it comes to determining content comprehension levels,” Carter said. “Reading faces is already hard enough without masks and having to more or less guess how a student was feeling based on limited cues was tough. I think it has also gotten students more excited for class which has translated into more upbeat classroom settings.”

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