A group of 15 Unmask UW members congregated at Library Mall on Friday to protest university mask mandates.
“Unmask UW” is an anonymous organization comprised of University of Wisconsin-Madison students actively fighting against the university’s mask mandate, which went into effect on Aug. 5.
“Even if masks did work, a little bit, it’s not about the science, it’s just about our own freedom — the never-ending COVID restrictions need to go away,” said Unmask UW founder Lane Whitten.
An Arizona CDC report in two schools in the state’s most populated counties found that K-12 schools were 3.5 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks if they didn’t have a mask requirement at the start of the school year, compared to schools that required universal masking since the first day. The CDC recommends universal indoor masking on school campuses.
UW-Madison implemented an on-campus mask mandate to help stop the spread of COVID-19 on campus. This mandate requires all students, employees and campus visitors to wear face masks when they are inside campus buildings. While this mandate helped some students and professors feel more comfortable about returning to classes amidst the pandemic, others reacted differently.
Unmask UW currently has around “thirty members that are active and planning, and a lot of different followers on social media,” according to Whitten. On their website, Unmask UW states that their main goal is to advocate for “student rights and medical freedoms.”
The state of Wisconsin does not currently have a statewide mask mandate. However, Dane County, the county in which UW-Madison resides, has a countywide mask mandate.
Unmask UW protests on campus mask mandates because, “they don't think masks are effective, the vast majority of campus is vaccinated, and we believe it's our own personal choice whether we wear it or not,” Whitten said.
The group created a petition titled “Repeal forced masking at UW-Madison,” which currently has 700 signatures. In this petition, Unmask UW states that “the pursuit of happiness is not regulated by Chancellor Becky Blank,” and that “individuals have the freedom to choose what they put on their face.”
Unmask UW members voiced their concerns at this protest, which is the group’s second one of the year. The group held their first protest at the Wisconsin Capitol on Sept. 3.
“The university takes our silence as consent and assumes that everyone’s okay with what’s going on,” said a senior member of Unmask UW at the protest, who wished to stay anonymous. “A lot of people are quietly unhappy about the mask mandate, and [Unmask UW] is just giving those people a voice.”
Unmask UW will continue to fight against the university’s mask mandate, while also “trying to work with the state legislatures to try to end the mandate,” said Whitten.