Masked College of Coastal Georgia students and faculty gathered outside the student activities center Thursday afternoon to protest the University System of Georgia’s refusal to impose a mask mandate on campuses.
They made their feelings known with hand-lettered signs with messages, including “Masket or casket,’’ “Masks are disposable. We are not,’’ and “I can’t pay tuition if I’m dead.” The crowd ranged from 60 to 70 in the hour-long protest.
Sabrina Hodges said if she wants to attend class she has to do so unsafely.
“I just think it’s unfair that my classes are completely full and less than half of them wear masks,’’ she said.
Lily Heidger said she believes students should have some control over the cases and deaths in the area.
“Our campus makes a difference in Brunswick,’’ and should help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, she said. “I don’t believe the students understand the magnitude of the effect in our area.”
Skye Lewis said her husband works at the hospital and has seen the effects of COVID on the staff.
“I just want people to understand the seriousness even though we’re tired of hearing about it,’’ she said.
The most common signs had images of Dwana Gibbs, a member of the nursing faculty who recently died of COVID even though she had been vaccinated. The signs bore an inscription usually seen on tombstones, 1964-2021.
Psychology professor Karen Hambright held a sign that said “USG: Stop killing our faculty.”
She said Gibbs donned personal protection equipment when she made the rounds in the COVID ward at Southeast Georgia Health System.
“She was less concerned going around COVID patients than she was in the classroom,’’ Hambright said.
Nursing faculty member Nevada LeCounte put on PPE and held a sign with a message for those opposed to masks.n“Don’t complain until you wear PPE (for) 12 hours,’’ it said.
Some students brought Millie, a lifelike mannequin used in the nursing program, to the protest. Millie held a sign with an apparent reference to Gov. Brian Kemp, who has steadfastly blocked mask mandates. It read, “A farmer shouldn’t be in charge of public health.”
The protesters chanted some of the messages on their signs, but most urged local control for decisions on masks. One faculty member said the Board of Regents answers to Kemp, who is in control of mask mandates.
College President Michelle Johnston walked over to the demonstration before it ended.
Johnston told The Brunswick News the college supports the “right of people to gather peacefully to express different perspectives on important issues.”
COVID-19 and efforts to stop its spread are at the “forefront of our minds daily as we work to educate students,’’ Johnston said.
There are many opinions on the subject and the college supports the members of the campus community as they present their own perspective and concerns, she said.
The demonstrators clearly want the University System of Georgia to take a step beyond simply encouraging masks and vaccinations.
There are signs around campus urging “Mask up Mariners,’’ and “Vax Up Mariners.”
Johnston said the college has hosted six vaccination clinics on campus.