This weekend as I was shopping, I came across over a half dozen of our students getting some groceries for the coming week. Although they were proudly wearing an assortment of Moundbuilder gear, only one of them was wearing a mask covering both his nose and mouth. The others were either using their masks as chin and neck guards or simply not bothering to wear a mask at all.

I stopped to chat with them and confirmed that they were indeed Southwestern College students. I told them that I was a Moundbuilder too. I then explained to them that they needed to mask up. I tried to remind them that as Builders, we all have a shared responsibility to one another and the town. One of them responded that they all had breathing problems and laughed. Just to be clear, all of them appeared to be fit, young athletes, although it is possible that they all belonged to some asthmatic fraternity of which I am unaware. In the same grocery store aisles, there was quite a diverse set of Winfielders, including two older women using oxygen and an elderly man in a wheelchair, all wearing masks.

So damn disappointing.

Each fall, our town opens its arms to students from all over the country and the world. This year because of COVID-19 there was fear among many folks in town about bringing in students from so many different places. Each new young face represented a different potential source of the virus. The college assured the city that all precautions would be taken, which has happened through a huge commitment of time, energy and money. However, the one thing that cannot be controlled is the behavior and attitude of our students when they are off-campus.

As our students move about our larger Winfield community wearing purple shirts emblazoned with the words “Southwestern College” and various images of fearsome black cats, they need to realize that they represent the college and its ethos. When they laugh and scoff at the mask mandate in our shops and public spaces, they make the college look bad, they confirm the worst fears of our townspeople about our students and they risk sharing a deadly pathogen with our neighbors.

I beg our students to please realize that by enrolling in Southwestern College and coming to our small college town on the prairie, they have become part of a community. Not just the community of their athletic team or their college, but the community of Winfield. Please do better. Please keep me and my neighbors safe. Please mask up.

Patrick Ross