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The stories behind the masks

What motivates VCU students to put on their masks every day?

Face masks. When you stroll around Virginia Commonwealth University, you see them everywhere. As students walk through the Compass on their way to class or to the library, their personal style is on display from head to toe, and their face masks are no exception.

Every mask tells a story. A story about the student who wears it and what it says about their personality. A story about where they got that mask — maybe it was a gift from a friend or family member or maybe they crafted it themselves. A story about what drives them to mask up day after day.

While the evidence is there — studies have shown that masks have been key to reducing the spread of COVID-19 worldwide — the reasons students wear them range from showing mutual respect to protecting relatives and community members to reminding them how they got where they are today.

And while this year may look a little different, many VCU students have embraced masks as part of their image, part of what makes them stand out from the crowd.

We talked to some of these students about their favorites and what motivates them to put on that mask every day.

Alanna Cason

Psychology and criminal justice student in the pre-med advising track, College of Humanities and Sciences

alanna cason in two frames - in each she is wearing a different mask

With two majors and a chemistry minor while pursuing VCU’s pre-med track, Cason is busy, but she still finds time to select the perfect mask for her outfit. When putting together her ensemble every day, Cason has no shortage of options to choose from — about 25 masks in all. Her favorite is a cheetah print “because it’s cute.”

“I don’t like wearing boring masks because I like to dress nicely and I feel like, if I wear a mask that’s boring, I feel boring,” said Cason, a junior from Chesapeake, Virginia.

As she plans to pursue a career in medicine, Cason is conscientious of the message wearing a mask sends to others.

“I feel like it’s a service to humanity,” Cason said. “If you don’t wear a mask, it’s like you kind of don’t care about other people’s lives, their health issues and whatnot. And I want to go into health care so I want to represent what health care should be like.”

Kai’ja Taylor and James Oliver

Psychology student and biology student, College of Humanities and Sciences

kai'ja taylor and james oliver

Among Taylor’s many masks, she has several that show off her personality. Standing outside Cabell Library one morning this fall next to her classmate, the freshman psychology major had on a zebra print mask.

“I guess it shows that I’m a little feisty; I’m very outgoing,” Taylor said. “I like to think that I’m a happy, peaceful person.”

Oliver’s mask is in line with the rest of his style as well.

“I’m really bougie, so I had copped a Gucci mask because I do have a lot of designer things,” said Oliver, a freshman from Easton, Pennsylvania. “I just wanted to add to the collection.”

Both said the health conditions of family members are what pushes them to wear their masks every day.

“My father has some underlying illnesses, so it’s just making sure we keep the family safe first and foremost,” Oliver said.

Taylor, a Richmond native who lives with her mom and grandmother, agreed.

“My nana has COPD, and my mom suffers from seizures so she has to make sure she’s safe at all times,” Taylor said. “And obviously my nana’s older, and she lives with us, so we need to keep her safe.”

View full VCU News story with features on students from around the university.

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