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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Unmask 'Unmask UNC'

Unmask UNC Satire
An anti-mask mandate message written in chalk in front of the South Building declares, "No more forced treatment! Make masks optional," on Feb. 17, 2022. Similar messages have been appearing on the walkways of main campus sporadically over the course of this past week.

Editor's note: This article is satire.

UNC students have been known to rally for causes we care about. 

We’ve marched picket signs in protest of climate change inaction. We’ve sat in administrative meetings to advocate for tenure for Black professors. We tore down a Confederate monument on campus. And — more recently — some of us have wielded chalk to leave a message.

The message is simple: Unmask UNC. The details of this movement’s goals are unknown — apparently, you can only write so much in chalk before your hand starts to cramp. 

But short and ambiguous messages left around campus tout masks as a “personal choice” and demand an end to UNC’s mask mandate. One message reads, “We are no longer the silent majority,” although I’m not sure chalk messages no longer than a tweet can count as breaking your silence.

Difficult public health discussions have been happening above ground for nearly two years and without the aid of Crayola sidewalk chalk. We’ve seen COVID-19 policies both strengthen and relax after long and realistic discussions about campus life during a pandemic.

Those pushing for serious changes to how UNC handles the pandemic have put their names and faces on the line to advocate for safer policies — this includes student leaders who have tirelessly pushed for PPE, vaccine mandates and a more gradual return to in-person instruction.

Now, messages without authors litter the brick walkways of campus, advocating for vague changes to public health policy — and these messages are nothing if not intentionally provocative.

One chalking demands a “pro-choice” sentiment when it comes to masks, comparing public health to women’s demands for increased autonomy over their own bodies. 

"Don't mandate, tolerate" left me scratching my head at what exactly we are tolerating. And while "stop littering masks, save the trees" warms my environmentally conscious heart, I somehow doubt its authors are involved with environmental advocacy on campus.

My personal favorite reads, "Don't wear a mask if you don't want to." Have you been in the Dean Dome recently? Perhaps spent some time in Davis Library? Compliance with UNC’s mask mandate is already on a voluntary basis in these spaces. (I will take this time to remind you that it has to go over your nose to count.)

If you’re passionate about changing campus policies — and not just riling up the readers of your message who happen to walk by it — you would not leave your message in cowardly anonymity. The appropriate forum for these difficult discussions shouldn’t be threatened by some rain or passersby with water bottles.

Don’t get me wrong. The argument for relaxing COVID-19 policies has some teeth. Hospitalizations and new cases have been on the decline, and an increasing number of vaccinated and boosted students are less worried about the potential to catch the virus.

There is a group of students who might agree that some of UNC’s COVID-19 precautions — not that the University has left many intact — are no longer as necessary. But it’s hard to take such an argument seriously when its authors have hidden behind a veil of anonymity.

So, here is my call to action: Unmask those behind “Unmask UNC.” Give a face to those who seem blissfully unaware that UNC is in a county that has an active mask mandate. Put a name to provocative and insensitive sidewalk chalk messages that compare face coverings to invasive violations of women’s rights.

Have public health discussions the way student leaders have been having them for years now, and save the chalk for hopscotch.


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Caitlyn Yaede

Caitlyn Yaede is the 2023-24 print managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel and oversees weekly print production. She previously served as the DTH's opinion editor and summer editor. Caitlyn is a public policy master's student at UNC.