An anonymous account on Instagram known as @zagsunmasked posted its first photo of two students walking on GU’s campus on Aug. 28, one with a mask covering her nose, the other with her mask off the face and pulled under her chin, the caption written with the message “#ProtectOurZags” and a heart emoji.
Since then, this account has garnered 712 followers and has posted 16 photos of students without a mask and without context in the captions. All posts contain the hashtag “#ProtectOurZags.”
The Gonzaga Bulletin reached out the @zagsunmasked account on Sept. 3. Since then @zagsunmasked have said “no comment,” and suggested they feared for their safety.
In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, GU and Spokane have asked that the Spokane college community take proper COVID-19 protection measures, as mentioned in a letter from the Spokane Regional Health District, asking that students “take care of your own health, and those closest to you, by wearing face coverings.”
GU has made an effort to implement COVID-19 mask wearing responsibility, distributing free masks to students and posting signs around campus, alerting students that masks were mandatory while on campus.
Other U.S. universities have closed due to COVID-19, like University of North Carolina Chapel Hill that reversed its plan for in-person classes after 130 students tested positive for COVID-19.
Thus, there is a real fear in the Zag community of GU being shut down and students being sent home to conduct remote-only courses.
“When you don’t wear a mask you put other students, parents, teachers and our community in the Logan [Neighborhood] in danger. #ProtectOurZags,” said the account in their saved Instagram story titled “Why?”
The community response has been less than positive, including from those who were featured on the account, like senior Carsyn Kniss.
In the photo Kniss is featured in, she was crossing Sharp Avenue from campus with her four roommates.
“Two of us took down our masks for just maybe 30 seconds, because there was no one near us and it was a very hot day,” Kniss said. “We had just finished walking for over an hour around campus with our masks on, and we just quickly caught our breath, which is when the photo was taken.”
Kniss and her roommates who were photographed were also tagged in the photo.
“It just felt like a huge invasion of privacy and a step in the wrong direction for helping people wear masks,” Kniss said. “It was stressful, upsetting and annoying seeing myself, and my friends tagged and shown on this page in this way.”
For junior Makayla Smith, she had a more indifferent outlook to being featured on the account.
“I don’t really care, just because I know what my intentions were and I know that I didn’t have any malicious intent,” Smith said.
Both Kniss and Smith agree that the @zagsunmaksed account should have approached the mask situation in a different manner.
“The person who’s taking these pictures and posting them, they’re just assuming things about people that they’re taking pictures of,” Smith said.
These Instagram posts have received backlash. The @zagsunmasked account released a statement on Sept. 1 on to their story, writing a paragraph response to the most common comments, including “this is illegal / you don’t have consent,” “this isn’t the right way to go about it” and “this is bullying/harassment.”
In response to the accusation of bullying and harassment, @zagsunmasked stated that “bullying implies a power imbalance or sense of vulnerability to the subject,” citing the National Centre Against Bullying’s definition of bullying.
According to GU’s Student Code of Conduct, under the general standards of conduct’s non-exhaustive list of actions and behaviors that are inconsistent with university expectations where alleged participation in such conduct may result in the initiation of student conduct procedures, “abusive or harassing behavior, including but not limited to stalking, unwelcome communication, unauthorized making or use of any audio, video or photographic record or image of person without that person’s prior knowledge or effective consent when such conduct may reasonably cause injury or distress.”
The account was brought to the attention of GU administration. On Sept. 2, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Kent Porterfield and Gonzaga Student Body Association President, Fese Elango, sent “A Call for Community” to the student body via email addressing the @zagsunmasked Instagram account.
“While everyone should be wearing a face covering on campus and in the Spokane community, we do not condone shaming and blaming as an efficient strategy, and it truly does not reflect our Zag values for helping and supporting one another,” Porterfield and Elango said in the email. “While the intent of the Instagram account may be to address the risks of not wearing a face covering on campus, the impact is that Zag students are being shamed and hurt, which is never acceptable.”
In response to the letter, the @zagsunmasked account posted twice to their story.
“We’re not going anywhere. Changes are afoot,” @zagsunmasked said in their first post. They followed it with a letter posted to their story noting GU doesn’t condone their account and that they “don’t condone their lack of enforcement on COVID-19 policy.”
“When we can trust Gonzaga is doing everything they can to keep our whole community safe, we will pass the torch. Until then, we have no choice but to help keep our community safe in our own way,” @zagsunmasked said, in a story post.
The post ended with the account disabling comments for the sake of the safety of the administrators on the account, the people making submissions and “other students with no connection who are actively being pursued and bullied."
As of Sept. 2, comments have not been turned back on.
In light of this situation, Porterfield hopes students will help one another.
“[Elango and I] were appealing to students to find positive and supportive ways to help and hold each other accountable for keeping our campus safe during this pandemic,” Porterfield said in an email to the Gonzaga Bulletin regarding the letter.
Some students have really taken to this message, finding positivity and humor through the situation.
Accounts like @zagpraise on Instagram and @zagshame on Twitter. These accounts have attempted to make light of the situation, posting positive student photos or funny tweets poking fun at @zagsunmasked.
Sophomore Eva Palmer, the owner of @zagpraise, agrees with what @zagsunmasked was attempting to do, but disliked the execution.
“In a time when confusion is really high and uncertainty is present, we need to be just kind and positive more than anything,” Palmer said.
Palmer made her account to create space where all Zags are welcomed, asking for permission to post and tag student photos.
“It’s just a safe and welcoming place for Zags to promote mask wearing but in a more proactive way,” Palmer said.
On a similar note, @zagshame on Twitter has taken to posting humorous tweets that poke fun at the @zagsunmasked account, posting things like “Why am I the only one in my Zoom classes with my mask on? This makes no sense.”
why am i the only one in my zoom classes with my mask on? this makes no sense— zagsunmasked but better (@zagshame) September 2, 2020
@Zagshame owner, senior Hunter Ward, thought making a parody would be a funny way to address the situation.
“The whole purpose of the parody account is really highlighting the stuff that is absolutely ridiculous about [@zagsunmasked],” Ward said.
As the semester continues, GU encourages the community to protect the health, safety and welfare of themselves as well as one another.