Stepping In: How You Can Help Keep Columbia Safe

Quick tips for encouraging others to follow Columbia’s safety policies.

Updated: July 22, 2021

Columbia University’s face covering and physical distancing policies (link) are in place to keep our community healthy. As the pandemic has evolved, our community policies have shifted to be responsive to the situation. Regardless, everyone has the right to wear a face covering so do not make assumptions when you see someone wearing a mask.

The following guide is in place to assist you in upholding current COVID-19 policies and to empower you to have conversations with others about your own personal comfort as we return to campus.

Positive Bystander Framework

Everyone—both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals--is required to wear face coverings indoors on campus through September 9, 2021. If you notice someone on campus who is not wearing their face covering or wearing it incorrectly while indoors during this time, you can approach the person in a number of ways. Following the positive bystander framework is a good place to start.

The first two steps are to:

  1. Notice a situation that troubles you
  2. Decide whether what is troubling you is actually a problem

If you’re at the point where you’re thinking about how to have this conversation, you’ve probably already gotten through these two steps.

The next part of this process is to assume personal responsibility. Each of us, as members of the Columbia community, plays a role in upholding the Compact. If any of us notices that someone isn’t following current University guidance and policies, when it feels possible, we should ask that person to do their part. Always remember that your own personal safety concerns are the most important thing to consider when you are deciding if you will address someone.

How to Help

Once you’ve made the decision to ask this person to wear a face covering or keep at least 6-feet of distance, you’ll want to think about the best approach. This is where you can get creative!

Here are some ideas for approaching this situation. Feel free to modify these to fit your personal style, and to fit the situation. For example, while you should no longer be asking people to put on face coverings outside, you may still wish to ask them to create more physical distance, for your own comfort.

Some of these approaches may work best for someone you know, while others may be better for someone you don’t know:

  • Excuse me. Could you please create some extra space? Thanks so much.
  • Would you mind putting on your mask so that it covers your mouth and nose while you’re inside. It would really mean a lot.
  • Since we’re indoors, can you please put on your face covering?
  • Sorry to interrupt, but since we’re indoors, I’d really appreciate if you could put your mask over your mouth and nose/move to the side so I can get by safely.
  • I hope you don’t mind if I ask you to allow for more distance.
  • Since we’re indoors, it would really make me feel better if you had your mask on, thanks.
  • I keep thinking of all the health care providers/essential workers who have to wear their mask indoors all day. If they can do that, I can wear it when I’m indoors, on campus.
  • I’d really like to keep talking – let’s just keep more distance.
  • I’m so happy to see you—would you mind if we elbow bump instead of hug?

Safety first, but be kind.


You may choose to make it more personal:

  • I’m worried about my health.
  • I live/work with someone who is vulnerable, and I want to be very cautious for them, and for my own piece of mind.
  • I have an important deadline coming up, and I just can’t afford to get sick and don’t want to take any chances.

Not everyone will be willing to follow your advice, no matter how thoughtfully you approach them. Some people may even take offense. If someone appears to be angry and the situation begins to escalate, please walk away and, if needed, seek help from a friend, colleague, Public Safety (Morningside 212-854-5555, Manhattanville  212-853-3301, CUIMC  212-305-8100), or 911 for emergencies.

If someone is violating current University policy regarding face coverings (for example not wearing one while indoors on campus through September 8), you can also submit a report or concern to a school staff member or a supervisor (for employees), or with the “report an incident” button on the University Life website.

Thank you for all that you are doing to keep our community healthy.