University of Chicago student Declan Hurley published a video on Sunday, begging the university to lift its cruel, anti-science mask mandate, so that he may hear in class.
Hurley is a deaf student with cochlear implants who, as the Chicago Thinker’s vice president, has made it his mission to highlight the hardships inflicted by UChicago’s mask mandates.
This summer, Hurley responded to the university’s strict indoor mask mandate by slamming it in a letter to The Wall Street Journal. “When service workers or professors wear masks, I am unable to see half their faces and my understanding of their speech declines precipitously. To add insult to the injury that I incur due to mask theater, I have double immunity because I beat Covid-19 and got vaccinated,” Hurley wrote.
Shortly after the publication of his WSJ letter, UChicago altered its guidance to allow professors and students to lower their masks “temporarily while actively speaking.” Hurley described this updated policy as “a fall-quarter lifesaver.”
With little explanation, the university has since rescinded this “lifesaver.” According to a December 20 announcement, “Lowering masks while speaking in class is no longer permitted.” In an op-ed fo the Thinker, Hurley responded that, “In addition to being epidemiologically indefensible, this policy is cruel to deaf and hard-of-hearing students like me.”
UChicago doubled-down on its new decree, so Hurley did likewise. In a second op-ed for the Thinker, Hurley emphasized that, “UChicago should once again embrace its tradition of independent thought and free discourse and give students, least of all the deaf and hard-of-hearing, the opportunity to hear in class. Rationality should not require a special accommodation.”
Hurley’s Sunday video comes as the university continues to refuse to address his concerns. Here is a full transcript of his video:
I am an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, a school that I love. But today I am imploring the UChicago administration to rescind or modify their mask mandate, which hurts deaf and hard-of-hearing people like me.
For context, the university last fall allowed students and professors to remove their masks while speaking in class. This policy allowed me to actually hear my classmates and instructors, as masks muffle people’s speech and prevent me from reading their lips. Moreover, people subconsciously change their speech patterns while wearing masks.
But this quarter, the university is explicitly banning students and professors from removing their masks while speaking in class. Administrators cite the Omicron variant, but one report says that Omicron’s case-fatality rate is one-fortieth of that of the Delta variant. The New York Timessays that for a vaccinated 75-year-old, contracting the flu is riskier than getting Omicron. And the university allows students to wear cloth masks, which former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says are near functionless against COVID.
If UChicago administrators want to be humane and epidemiologically sensible, they should lift their mask mandate. That way, I could converse meaningfully with classmates instead of having to strain to hear them, and I could talk with staff without having to ask them to repeat themselves half a dozen times.
At the very least, I beg UChicago to allow me to hear in class by letting professors and students remove their masks while speaking. Anything less is cruel to the deaf and hard-of-hearing and sinks beneath UChicago’s legacy of free academic inquiry.
The deaf and hard-of-hearing did not choose this disability, but the university president and provost can choose to let us hear.
Hurley’s video has gained traction on Twitter, with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University asking his audience to “Please take [a] moment to listen to [Hurley’s message].” As of publication, UChicago remains silent in addressing Hurley’s concerns.
Audrey Unverferth is the Chicago Thinker's co-founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief. As a senior at the University of Chicago, Audrey studies Law, Letters, and Society and Russian and East European Studies. In her free time, Audrey loves to collect books, swim in the ocean, and camp with her family. Follow her on Twitter @audrey__unver or email firstname.lastname@example.org.