A group of Ithaca College students is working to make sure that “using protection” has a new meaning for those who are trying to safely hook up amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Masks are Hot consists of five Integrated Marketing Communications students, sophomores Rachel Kaiser, Linnea Carchedi, Katherine Krom, Emily Smith and Natalie Tribiano. Their mission is to provide coronavirus-related dating information in a manner that college students will be receptive to. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask to protect people from contracting and infecting others with COVID-19, but this challenges the hookup culture in college.
“We don’t want to shame people, but we also believe that this is something that needs to be discussed,” Kaiser said.
Masks are Hot started as a final project in their Public Relations course with Jen Huemmer, assistant professor in the Department of Strategic Communication, last semester. In collaboration with Alex Estabrook, instructor in the Department of Media Arts, Sciences and Studies, Huemmer tasked the groups in class to develop a PR campaign and a PSA video to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Carchedi said the idea for Masks are Hot formed in the group’s first breakout room.
“We were like, ‘Oh it would be interesting if we did dating and hooking up on college campuses and how that relates to COVID,’” Carchedi said.
Hooking up is defined as “intimate interactions outside of dating or exclusive relationships.” Approximately 60–80% of college students have had some sort of hookup experience during their college career, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
“As college students, we know how dating and hookup culture is so integral to the college experience,” Carchedi said. “It’s going to happen whether or not you’re in a pandemic, and if you have messaging out there that will frame it in a safe way, that would be appealing to people.”
The group is continuing to run the Masks are Hot Instagram account this semester. The account, which has almost 300 followers, provides eye-catching information on its feed, including infographics on the number of active COVID-19 cases and safe date ideas.
“There is not much information on how to date during a pandemic, so we decided to be that information,” Krom said.
Huemmer said she is proud of the students behind Masks are Hot.
“Even more impressive is the fact that their desire to succeed was not just about getting a good grade or gaining personal accolades for their work,” Huemmer said. “They truly wanted to help the Ithaca College community by doing their small part to help keep students safe.”
Due to similar goals, Masks are Hot and IC Students Together have partnered to help inform students about campus–related COVID-19 updates. IC Students Together was initially launched in January through the combined efforts of the Student Governance Council (SGC), the Communications Committee and the Ithaca College’s chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) to create a public health campaign. This student-run campaign promotes COVID-19 safety on campus, senior Laura Heppes, co-president of PRSSA, said.
“[Masks are Hot is] a lot more like the dating, the friendship-type advice,” Heppes said. “Whereas [IC Students Together] were more regarding the school restrictions … so being able to tie the two together was really helpful so that students knew where they could find information regarding both of those categories.”
Sophomore Deontae Guy, vice president of communications for the SGC, said he suggested the partnership after researching and appreciating the work Masks are Hot had done in their class and after the semester ended.
Guy said he believes addressing dating and hooking up, although part of college culture, is not something that the SGC often discusses, so Masks are Hot provides a useful platform for students.
The groups plan on hosting virtual events. Masks are Hot is hosting a Student Leadership Institute (SLI) workshop 5–5:45 p.m Feb. 26. For additional events, Guy said information will be posted on the IC Students Together Instagram.