The Carolina Socialists held a protest against USC's mask-optional policy on the Horseshoe on Thursday, March 31. The group said they wanted to emphasize the voices of those at USC who are at-risk.
Masks have been optional in all spaces on campus except for medical facilities and public transportation since March 17.
Those attending the protest were particularly concerned with masks being optional in classrooms.
"You don't have the option to not be in those spaces," Victor Ponds, a fourth-year environmental science student, said. "You can't just choose to not go to class. You're making students choose between going to class or staying healthy."
The protestors stood on the steps of the McKissick Museum, sharing their stories and opinions, followed by a five-minute "die down" in front of the president's house. There, they laid down holding their signs in honor of those who have died from COVID-19.
Sof Guerrero, a second-year biomedical engineering student, was one of the main organizers of the event and shared their opinions about the mask-optional policy as an immunocompromised student.
"The idea that a few weak people should die so that the rest of society can go about their business is eugenics. And we should be ashamed, absolutely ashamed that this policy and this rhetoric have been reflected on our campus," Guerrero said.
Since the increase in cases due to Omicron that struck the campus in late January to February, USC's campus has seen very low case numbers, putting the campus on a "new-normal" alert level. When the mask-optional policy was put into place, there were only 12 active cases with no indication of a major increase since.
The members of Turning Point and Young Americans for Freedom also attended this protest without an obvious agenda in similar numbers to the members of Carolina Socialists and followed the protest from McKissick to the president's house. Turning Point members said they were not counter-protesting but were out enjoying the weather.
Bryce Dickenson, a third-year business economics student and President of Young Americans for Freedom, disagreed with Guerrero.
"I don't think allowing people to not wear a mask is eugenics. If you want to wear one, just go ahead and wear one," Dickenson said. "Eugenics is killing our populations. It's terrible. It's not choice freedom."
Some members of Carolina Socialists said in their speeches that students, USC administration and public health officials were being inconsiderate.
"Their policy ignores the new Omicron BA.2 variant, which is only one of many more to come in a probable increase in cases due to spring break and Five Points St. Patrick's Day celebration," Felix Mitchell, a third-year French student, said.
Likewise, Guerrero had similar concerns and frustrations with the students as well for not wearing their masks in educational spaces.
"I cannot even describe how upset I am. I would personally like to say to USC admin and the public health officials who have decided to lift the mask mandate: Shame on you," Guerrero said. "All my fellow students, shame on you. You should be embarrassed of yourself. You should have more human decency and care about your classmates more."
The mask optional policy has particularly impacted Guerrero because of their immunocompromised status, they said.
"'I've had to literally consider dropping out. It's not feasible for me. But this is something that like, I cannot, there are no online alternatives. There's really nothing I can do but go to class," Guerrero said.
Members of Turning Point and Young Americans for Freedom said they did not have a response to this portion of the protest, saying that they could not hear the Carolina Socialists members.
The university implemented the new mask policy in accordance with state and federal guidelines, according to university spokesperson Jeff Stensland
"Richland County, I believe the whole state at this point is listed as low in terms of COVID transmission. So we feel like it is a responsible policy change to make at this time," Stensland said. "We're very optimistic about the lower numbers and but again, we're gonna continue to track it. And if the situation changes we'll make adjustments."
Ultimately, the Carolina Socialists said they hoped this protest could emphasize the voices of those who are at risk.
"Especially immunocompromised students, faculty and staff," Ponds said. "It shouldn't happen without protest."
Correction (April 4 at 10:47 p.m.): A previous version of this article spelled Sof Guerrero's name incorrectly. The article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling.