On Jan. 25, President Paula Johnson emailed the Wellesley community with updates on health and safety for the spring semester. Among other new measures, the College announced that, based on data about the high transmissibility of the omicron variant, all community members were now required to wear KN95, KF94 or well-fitting surgical masks when indoors. While surgical masks would be available at testing sites, students would have to procure KN95 or KF94 masks on their own.
At printing time, a pack of 50 KN95 masks was $40 on Amazon, and a pack of 50 KF94 masks was $90. Both types of masks would take at least five days to arrive, even with Amazon Prime. Recognizing that it would be extremely difficult for many low-income students to purchase high quality masks, let alone enough to last the whole semester, Harper Elrod ’25 created the WCCommunityCare Instagram account.
“It’s kind of disheartening that a college, especially when it’s such a large endowment, can’t provide us [with masks],” Elrod said. “I just came up with the idea because I was thinking about what I can do concretely within my own community.”
To source the masks, Elrod reached out to Seoyoung Park ’24, who had already planned on bringing masks for Wellesley students, and agreed to help scale up the effort to serve a greater number of students. A coalition of five students was formed to help with publicizing the fundraising efforts, and a detailed form containing questions on student needs that extended beyond masks, was made available to the students through the Instagram account.
“On the form, the first question asked is if they are immunocompromised. This information isn’t stored but it’s just so that we can prioritize those needs,” Elrod said. “We did one delivery to all the people who filled it out as immunocompromised … distribution so far has just been literally me and my friends walking around and putting little bags on people’s doors.”
Elrod also reached out to residential life, and HPs and RAs from each hall agreed to help coordinate distribution and get masks to their residents. To further their effort and learn about the needs of the student body, WCCommunity Care set up a community demands meeting on Jan. 29. Through this meeting and an anonymous form, they planned to gather COVID-related student demands and create a petition. At the meeting, students asked for the College to provide higher quality masks, as well as to increase transparency around COVID rules, specifically the rule banning off-campus visitors.
“I definitely think they should be providing these masks to students … or they should be sending them the money to buy them themselves. This is something that they should be providing to us with such a large endowment,” Elrod said. “They pride themselves on how much of their student body is low-income, how their student body is so diverse and has so many disabled people, and they can’t pride themselves on that if they don’t protect the people.”