A petition being circulated online and across various social medias quickly gained traction and sparked concern among University of New Hampshire (UNH) students and their families. The petition was based on rumors regarding face mask enforcement during the fall semester due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
A screenshot of an email from a concerned student claimed that Ruth Abelmann, director of Residential Life, said all UNH students would be required to wear face masks at all times while on campus. If someone was seen not wearing a mask, they would face being reported to the UNH Police Department (PD). The screenshot also claimed that non-UNH guests would not be allowed to stay in residence halls overnight and suggested that IDs would be checked to ensure that they are students at UNH.
This screenshot prompted a petition, started by Dominic Borrelli, a senior environmental and resource economics major, that addressed this rumor and encouraged students to sign it in opposition to the claim. The petition’s description listed that students’ “civil liberties are coming under attack on the University of New Hampshire campus this upcoming fall. We, as not only students but free citizens of the United States, do not want to live under the unnecessary rule of constant police surveillance.”
After more students and their families became aware of the rumor, Chief Paul Dean of the UNH Police Department released a statement addressing the rumor:
“Based on false information, there is a petition circulating claiming that students will be under police surveillance this fall and will get in trouble for not wearing a mask. Again, the petition is based on false information. The university will continue to follow state and federal health guidance, to include when and where masks should be worn, and it is our expectation that every member of our community should be prepared to follow recommendations. In no circumstance will police officers enforce the wearing of a mask.”
In an email exchange with Abelmann, she explained that the rumor began after a meeting with the resident assistants (RAs) for the upcoming school year. The purpose of the meeting was to offer RAs a chance to connect and prepare for what a physically distant semester may look like. While Abelmann did not say that students are expected the call the police on others who are not wearing face masks, she did say that it “will likely be that students are expected to wear face coverings in all public spaces at the start of the semester.”
If the expectation of masks in public places were to be made official, however, Abelmann made sure that the RAs know that they always have support to back them up if students do not comply.
The rumor of face masks also comes after Durham town administrator Todd Selig issued an order effective May 28 that all Durham town residents wear cloth face coverings in public spaces in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. More information about the administrative order can be found on the Town of Durham’s website.
As for the rumor of non-university students not being allowed overnight in the residence halls, Abelmann did say that there is a possibility of this, but it is her hope that RAs will still be able to create a positive community for their residents.
While UNH has yet to release exactly what precautions will be taken and put into place during the fall semester, they will be cooperating with the New Hampshire state guidelines to ensure a safe environment for all students to continue their education on campus.