A SUNY New Paltz Professor is under scrutiny after saying she will add a mask requirement to her class even though the school doesn't require it -- and those who don't follow it are racist.

It's easy to think that our country has completely lost its mind. However, I like to believe that most of us are normal, rational people who are just being overshadowed by some extremely wacky people on the far reaches of the right and left. The controversy surrounding a local Hudson Valley professor is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

SUNY New Paltz Professor Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón was recently called out by the media for some comments she made on Twitter about the upcoming semester. Websites like Outkick.com are taking the tenured professor to task for suggesting that any student who doesn't wear a mask in her class is "racist." This comes after SUNY New Paltz has announced that masks are not required on campus.

The professor has incorporated her insistence that all students mask up into a rough draft of next semester's syllabus.

The tweet basically says that if you don't mask, you're a privileged racist who doesn't care about anyone but yourself.

Refusing to mask indoors is a manifestation of ableism and racism, an exercise of individual privilege that tells the most vulnerable that their health does not matter.


To be clear, I have been a strong proponent of masking up and vaccinating during the global pandemic. Like most other normal, rational people I've been following the science and doing whatever has been recommended to keep me, my family and the rest of the world safe.

Right now the CDC is recommending that masks be worn "if you are in an area with a high COVID-19 Community Level and are ages 2 or older." Currently, Ulster County is listed as medium risk, and trends appear to show that the risk level is lowering.

It does seem a bit extreme to describe people following CDC guidelines as ableists and racists who are exercising individual privilege. Pabón-Colón's suggestion that she cannot provide an "equitable and just" atmosphere for learning unless all of her students surpass CDC guidelines and wear a mask is, in a word, "bonkers."


While well-meaning, I believe the professors' own privilege has gotten in the way of clear thinking. All of these students in her class will be living, working and learning in an area that the CDC says does not need to mask. As a result, these same students will also be visiting grocery stores, churches, doctors' offices, bars, restaurants and other classrooms where masks are not being used. They don't have the ability to write rules that shame their coworkers or fellow shoppers into wearing masks.

As a tenured professor, author and lecturer, Pabón-Colón most likely has the privilege of being able to get her groceries delivered if she chooses. She probably has the resources to avoid crowds and live in a home that makes it easy to socially distance herself from the rest of the world. And, as a professor, she has the privilege of making mask-wearing a requirement in her own workplace. That's great for her, but that's not the reality most of us are living in. By calling students who are following the science and CDC guidelines "racist" and suggesting they are privileged, she's just showing her own privilege and revealing the cozy bubble that her academic life has provided her.

Sadly, those who truly don't care about the safety of others by scoffing at vaccinations and wearing masks in high-risk situations will point to people like this professor as proof that only the "crazy left" believe in wearing masks. Normal, rational people like you and me who take COVID precautions when necessary will be left stuck in the middle as these two wacky groups push themselves further apart, turning our country into a bunch of out-of-touch extremists.

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