Demonstrators gather on Georgia college campuses to protest lack of mask mandates

The University of Georgia campus in Athens

A weeklong series of protests has begun on some of the biggest college campuses in Georgia, a state where less than 50% of residents are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and the governor has left mask mandates to local officials.

The protesters are demanding mask mandates at all Georgia state-funded universities, with demonstrations scheduled to take place at 17 campuses, according to the Georgia chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

"The one thing we want to achieve is an immediate mask mandate," Georgia Conference AAUP President Matthew Boedy said.

In late July, system officials urged students to get vaccinated and recommended mask use.

"Everyone is encouraged to wear a mask or face covering while inside campus facilities," a news release said. "The system continues to work closely with the Georgia Department of Public Health to prioritize the health and safety of our campus communities."

Boedy announced the series of protests in a letter addressed to interim University System of Georgia Chancellor Teresa MacCartney.

He said the demonstrations are intended to "publicly shame" the USG and Board of Regents.

"We're doing a week-long protest as opposed to a one-day protest because we want to disrupt the status quo as much as possible and we can't strike, so we're trying to do it every day to have the university system feel the impact," Boedy said.

The protests began Monday morning and will take place every day of the week at a different hour.

Video from Grady Newsource, a news organization staffed by journalism students at University of Georgia, showed several dozen mask-wearing people at the protest on the Athens campus.

There was a smaller counter protest, Grady Newsource reported.

Usree Bhattacharya is a University of Georgia assistant professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education. She has a small child with health issues.

"It is high time that (the Board of Regents of the USG) do the right thing," she said last week before the school hosted a football game with more than 92,000 fans. "This is not a time for politics. It is not a time for ideology. It is time for compassion."

Demonstrations at the 17 campuses were scheduled to minimize the impact on classes and students, as well as to comply with Georgia law, which prohibits strikes and work stoppage, according to Boedy.

"We told our faculty members involved that we could not cancel, move or disrupt class," said Boedy.

Boedy said that the Georgia chapter is echoing the message from the national AAUP.

"It is dismaying that some states are prohibiting institutions from implementing even the most basic public health and safety measures," the national AAUP said in a statement. "By taking action, we can prevent illness and save lives," the national AAUP said in a statement issued last month.

Boedy's advocacy for taking precautions against Covid-19 is upheld in his classroom at the University of North Georgia. Before the start of the school year, he sent a message to his students urging them to come to class masked and vaccinated.

"At this point, you are either vaxxed or you are infected," Boedy said, adding that the Delta variant has been particularly hard on young people.

He gave students the option to take the class remotely if they did not feel comfortable attending in-person classes amid the Delta variant surge. Boedy stated his own intention to wear a mask and practice social distancing, imploring his students to be respectful.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, more than 80,700 Covid-19 cases have been reported in the past two weeks. Only 45% of Georgia residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

In August, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp encouraged Georgians to get vaccinated against and announced a subsidy to encourage state employees. He has said the state will not order any mask mandates.

In the case of K-12 schools, he has said the mask decisions should be made by local officials.

The-CNN-Wire

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CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian, Eric Levenson, Pamela Kirkland and Jade Gordon contributed to this report.

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