New UNC student survey gives insight into concerns, safety measures for return to campus

A new survey of UNC-Chapel Hill students shows 84 percent of undergraduates say they’re willing to wear face masks to class when they return to classes next month — but fewer said they will wear masks while on campus generally and about 30 percent said they will still go to parties and other large gatherings.

The e-mail survey, designed by faculty in the university’s  Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, was conducted between June 8 and June 23. It was sent to more than 33,000 graduate and undergraduate students. More than 7,000 responded.

Among undergraduate respondents, 60 percent said they were “extremely likely” to wear masks while in class and 24 percent said they were “somewhat likely.”

Of the graduate students who responded, 79 percent said they were “extremely likely” to wear masks while in class and 13 percent said they were “somewhat likely.”

Among undergraduate students, 52 percent said they were “extremely” likely to wear masks on campus when they are not in class. Another 26 percent said they were “somewhat likely.”

For graduate students, the numbers were again higher — 74 percent said they were extremely likely to wear masks on campus when not in class and 16 percent said they were “somewhat likely.”

Jonathan Sauls, UNC-Chapel Hill interim vice chancellor for Student Affairs

Masks will be a requirement for all students and instructors during in-person classes and in any on-campus situation where social distancing of at least six feet is not possible, the university has said. Administrators have for months been unable to answer how they plan to enforce the mandate, but in a Faculty Executive Committee meeting on Monday Jonathan Sauls, interim vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said students will be removed from in-person courses if they will not wear masks.

That won’t mean a disciplinary process, Sauls said — which would probably be too slow. Students who don’t comply with the mandate will simply be unenrolled and/or given the option of taking classes online instead of in person.

“We require students coming into the university to have vaccinations,” Sauls said. “If they don’t have those vaccinations, we don’t send them through a disciplinary process. But we do potentially disrupt their ability to remain enrolled at the institution through an administrative process, because it’s rooted in the health and safety of the campus.”

The choice will be a binary one, he said.

“You can choose to agree to the community standards and in fact adhere to those community standards, or you can choose another option of engagement that does not involve your physical presence in the community,” he said. “But you can’t choose to ignore these community standards and also be a full, participatory member of the community.”

The student survey also asked about social distancing on and off campus, including parties and other large social gatherings.

Among undergraduates, 52 percent aid they were “extremely likely” to follow distancing requirements on campus and 28 percent said they are either extremely or somewhat likely to still attend parties and large gatherings.

Again, graduate students were more likely to comply with community standards on distancing — 76 percent said they were “extremely likely” to adhere to distancing requirements on campus and 72 percent said they were “extremely unlikely” to attend parties or large gatherings.

Sauls said his office has been working with fraternities and sororities on campus and through their national organizations. They have agreed to have virtual recruiting events this year, he said, and have been made aware that even if their houses are off-campus they are still subject to the mask, distancing and large gathering laws now in place through Orange County and the town of Chapel Hill.

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