By: Joshua Robles, A&E Editor
Masks are now optional at Newman University for the first time since fall of 2020.
And the end of mask requirements also has meant the end of “mask fishing,” which has led to moments of surprise over the past couple of weeks.
But it’s also become easier to authentically connect with people, many say.
Mask fishing is defined as a kind of unintentional “catfishing” and happens when a person looks different without a mask than one may have expected. Many on campus say that since Newman dropped the mask mandate on Feb. 28, they feel like they’ve been meeting strangers for the first time.
Freshman Florence Barles said he’s liked the change and that it’s now easier for him to connect with professors and other students.
Barles said that one of his professors seemed stern while wearing a mask, but it turns out that’s not the case.
“Now that I’ve seen them without a mask, I know now that they are really a lot more fun, outgoing, and easy to connect with,” he said.
Barles also said that he prefers having no mask as it helps him connect with other students and form friendships.
“Not having masks has already made my experience on campus much more enjoyable and memorable,” he said. “I honestly just want to be able to form friendships and authentic relationships, and I found that wearing masks really got in the way of that because people didn't want to go out of their way to engage another person. But now taking masks away, you can tell that it is more welcoming. It helps you to make more of a connection now with others because you can read their facial expressions.”
Barles isn’t the only person who feels this way. Adjunct instructor for oral communication Jessica Frias also said that the end of the mask mandate has made a big difference in her class.
“Not having masks on campus now allows me to connect better with my students, especially because in the class that I teach, oral communication, it gave the students something to hide behind,” she said. “So being able to finally completely see their faces and see their reactions in class and knowing whether they are engaged or not is the best thing.”
Even though Frias is enjoying being able to connect better with her students, she admits that during the first days back without masks, she was surprised that people looked differently from what she’d imagined. Other instructors and professors say they had similar experiences.
“Recently, I attended a basketball game and a student came up to me and said, ‘It’s great to see you here,’” said Theatre Director Mark Mannette. “I thought I should know this person, but I didn’t recognize them. Then later on, I realized that I had her in a previous class and was only used to seeing her eyes only and not her entire face. Even on the first day without masks, I looked out across my class, and it was as if I was seeing the students for the first time because now I could see their complete faces.”
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Digital Art Laura Scholl said even though it is a bit weird seeing others without masks, it is more comfortable without them.
“We have these expectations because we’re reading the face only from the eyes up,” she said. “This one student in my class with a mask looks just like a past student I’ve had, but now when I see his face, I’m surprised because he looks nothing like that. It is so much more relaxing now, though, without wearing a mask. It is kind of like after people get home and take off their shoes, they’re much more relaxed.”
Professor of English Bryan Dietrich said it’s been a weird transition to not wearing masks.
“It’s really interesting to finally see everybody’s face and then say, ‘Oh wow, that’s not how I assumed they would look.’ But the weirdest thing for me was the first couple of days not having that piece of cloth over your face because after two years of having to wear it, it felt strange without it, and I felt a bit naked,” Dietrich said. “But I think it’s important to see faces and to talk to people, and it’s a little scary for me personally. But it’s even scarier not being able to teach the way that I think I ought to teach.”
Junior Hadassah Umbarger said that it’s now easier to talk to others and say “hi” without masks.
“I usually like to smile at people as I pass them on campus, but obviously they couldn’t see that I’m smiling because of the mask, so I’m glad now that they can actually see that I’m doing that,” Umbarger said. “Overall I’m just glad we have our faces back.”
PHOTO: Courtesy photo, Unsplash