Unmasking with Stuy Students

Stuyvesant students describe trends they’ve noticed in those who have chosen to and not to wear a mask in school.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By The Features Department

As New York City sees yet another COVID-19 downtrend, it seems as though the behemoth of the pandemic is being dealt with day by day. When the city took a deep breath knowing that the worst was over, its students did as well. Mayor Eric Adams announced his decision to remove the mask mandate for NYC public schools on Friday, March 4. While this milestone of the pandemic seemed to be an indicator of tremendous progress, in the minds of high school students, the battle is far from over as they contemplate the dilemma of masking or unmasking and who chooses which path.

At first glance, the idea of masking isn’t one that seems too hard-hitting; there seems to be plenty of clear-cut reasons that could help someone make an easy decision. However, after observing the endless debate over this idea, one can’t help but try to unpack why exactly people are making the decision to unmask after such a long-standing precedent, as well as find patterns in those who are.

Some have felt uneasy following the quick switch to optional masking given the still-troubling COVID cases. In a survey conducted by The Spectator in mid-March, 57.7 percent of participants responded that they still wear their masks for health reasons. “I still wear my masks because I’m in multiple classrooms every day [with] multiple students every day,” sophomore Shreya Das said. “[When] interacting with them, I think it’s safer to wear a mask.”

On the other hand, other students have adopted a more lenient personal policy when it comes to masking. “I feel safe taking off my mask for small periods of time with small groups of people, like to eat lunch or a snack,” sophomore Charlotte Peterson shared. “But I don’t feel comfortable taking it off completely yet.”

Others feel that now is the time to take action with COVID-19 loosening its hold. Students such as freshman Olivia Dogan see this lifted mandate as a chance to abolish the social stigma of unmasking. “If we’re ever going to take off our masks, it might as well be now,” Dogan proclaimed, siding with the 12.9 percent of students who’ve taken their masks off. “I wanted to [stop] wearing a mask to inspire other people to make the same decision if that’s what makes them feel comfortable.” Dogan understands that many only wear a mask due to this stigma, and believes that the more people that begin to unmask, the more likely others will feel more comfortable doing so as well.

Still, the decision is not as cookie-cutter as it appears. The social implications of mask-wearing have seemingly overrun the minds of Stuyvesant students. The “Whys” and “Whos” of the situation reveal a fair amount about how school and its many factors influence the choices of Stuyvesant students.

According to results from the mask survey conducted by The Spectator, the starkest contrast in mask-wearing arises between grade levels. “Mostly upperclassmen have [opted to take their masks off],” freshman Brandon Waworuntu noted. “The upperclassmen started going to Stuy without wearing masks so they’re more used to it.” According to the survey, approximately 95 percent of freshmen and sophomores surveyed claimed that they still wear a mask, in comparison to only 62 percent of seniors (depicted below). As a result, a lot of underclassmen seem to gravitate towards following the crowd; approximately 43 percent of Stuyvesant students admitted to choosing to wear a mask due to social reasons. “I’ve decided to continue wearing a mask to school because it’s the norm,” Waworuntu explained.

Sophomore Charles Stern finds himself in this category as well: “I think [my decision] depends on how many other people [are] wearing masks,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be the odd one out.”

Sophomore Charlotte Peterson noted a trend regarding ethnicity when it came to masks. “I've noticed that of the students who have chosen to remove their masks, many of them are white,” she said. This observation is supported by the data, as slightly under 25 percent of surveyed white students chose to take off their masks in comparison to 6 percent East Asian and 9 percent South Asian, who make up approximately 72 percent of students at Stuyvesant (note that only 7 percent surveyed were of African American or Hispanic descent, making it difficult to accurately interpret these two statistics).

Waworuntu noticed this pattern as well: “It’s usually those of Caucasian descent who I see [without] a mask.” One possible explanation for this finding is that one’s social sphere often has strong influences on both one’s health-related and social decision-making. Seeing friends not wearing a mask may make one feel inclined to do the same, and vice versa.

While not as apparent due to the comparatively large sums of those who encapsulate gender groups within Stuyvesant, The Spectator’s mask survey also depicts a significant correlation between gender identity and masking decisions. Approximately 20 percent of surveyed individuals who identify as male have opted to no longer wear a mask in school, in comparison to approximately 7 percent of students who identify as female. To add, zero percent of those who identify as non-binary or otherwise (out of 19 people surveyed) claimed to have stopped wearing a mask to school. This stark contrast between groups of students is similar to that of the trends shown in the mask-wearing statistics by ethnicity. Likewise, this may be explained by connections between students of the same gender groups and the influence this has on decision-making.

In the end, regardless of your race, age, or gender, the constantly changing, forever complicated status of the faces of Stuyvesant has made the topic worth pondering. These statistics are merely numbers and are not to be confused with standards that are set in stone. The most important takeaway is that the choice to leave your mask on or off is up to you. “The masks are uncomfortable, they make listening to others hard, they make speaking hard, so I get it, you know,” Das stated. ”I’m not gonna judge you for not wearing a mask.”