The OU Student Government Association released an open letter to Gov Kevin Stitt and the state’s legislative leaders, asking that they rescind Executive Order 2021-16 and repeal aspects of SB 658 that OU believes restrict it from implementing a mask mandate or requiring vaccinations.
Stitt's executive order prevents state agencies from mandating masks or requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of admittance to any public building. SB 658 does not allow certain institutions — including a board of education of a public or technology center school district or the board of regents of an institution within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education — to mandate vaccines or enforce mask mandates for unvaccinated students against COVID-19.
Tavana Farzaneh, SGA president and economics senior, said she tries to be COVID-19-conscious, and she felt helpless and nearly experienced a panic attack during a class where most students were not wearing masks.
"If I, the president of the student body, feel so helpless and so defenseless in this situation, I can't be the only one," Farzaneh said.
Farzaneh said this moment pushed her and the rest of SGA to discuss a course of action with OU administrators. They were told by university leaders COVID-19 protocols were largely out of OU’s control and mandated by the state instead.
"Until the state can give us local authority and local opportunity for decision making, then OU has to follow the state mandate," Farzaneh said.
The Oklahoma District Court issued a Sept. 1 temporary injunction against SB 658, though the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office announced last week it was appealing it. The injunction will remain until a permanent hearing by a permanent injunction court hearing takes place or a higher court takes action.
SGA’s open letter also calls for signatures from students who agree there needs to be a change.
"I feel like the signatures were a good way to allow others to feel like their voice is being heard," Farzaneh said. "I also believe in more power in numbers. I'm not sure if this will change the state's decision, but we'll see what happens."
Crispin South, SGA Congress chair and international security studies senior, believes the letter and the signatures will increase public pressure on Stitt and other legislative leaders.
"Over 200 people have signed on to this letter asking them to remove restrictions on community and local governance," South said. "These are people from all across campus who are just concerned about the state of our campus."
South said ideally, SGA wants to see students being safe and healthy on campus. He feels the current executive order from Stitt is hurting that.
"The current restrictions that have been placed on localities and universities are simply harmful," South said. "They are harmful, and they are detrimental to the health of our community. For three straight weeks in a row we've seen increases in positive test numbers at OU."
OU’s COVID-19 dashboard shows a steady increase in positive tests, climbing from 26 cases the week of Aug. 24 to 61 cases the week of Sept. 7. So far, in Cleveland County, September has been the month with the highest average cases since January, according to The New York Times.
Farzaneh wants students to know SGA is trying its best and taking slow steps to improve campus policy. Farzaneh also encouraged any students with questions to reach out to her email at email@example.com.
"There are people that are very comfortable with the governor's decision, and that's totally fine," Farzaneh said. "The problem there is, whenever it's elected representation, we have to consider the majority. From most of what I've heard through students and faculty, it seems the people I represent seem to be towards the perspective of ‘this is not good.’”
SGA plans to close the letter for signatures on Sept. 14.