Pepperdine Health Ambassadors sophomores Asia Ford (left) and Rachel Jiang (right) pose in front of Payson Library before starting their shift Oct. 20. Ford said she hopes to make an impact through her new position by reducing COVID cases. Photo by Ryan Brinkman
As Pepperdine staff and students settle into life on campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Pepperdine works to enforce LA County health protocols.
“We want to make sure that we’re promoting awareness, taking a very educational and informative approach to make sure that our community is in compliance with the policies,” Emrich said. “Basically, we’re enforcing and educating the community on the policies we’re required to adhere to, from the LA County Department of Public Health.”
In addition to weekly COVID testing and vaccine policies, Pepperdine requires face coverings within indoor public spaces if one is not actively eating or drinking. LA County guidelines for institutions of higher education also suggests contact tracing and quarantine plans to supplement the face masks and other COVID requirements.
Emrich and Brewster said growing concern regarding proper mask use prompted stronger rule enforcement. Pepperdine Health Ambassadors work to provide for a healthy environment on campus by monitoring frequently visited, indoor spaces, Emrich said.
PHA Duties and Rolling Applications
Emrich and Brewster said all PHAs will be students, and they will approach anyone indoors not wearing a mask.
“So, first and foremost, their role is to be a friendly educator, and they are wearing a uniform, so you’ll see them wearing a light blue t-shirt or [a] similar branded lanyard, and they are going to be circulating throughout common areas,” Emrich said.
The PHAs will monitor most indoor spaces: Payson Library, the HAWC, the Caf, the shuttles and many other public spaces on campus, Emrich said.
If an ambassador notices someone is not properly wearing a mask, one or two warnings may be given. Should a person remain noncompliant after these preliminary warnings, the PHA will engage in a conversation regarding the alternative option to work outside. In the event that conflict arises, the PHA has the ability to utilize the person’s ID card information for further conversation in a formal setting, at a later time. If needed, Public Safety stands ready to step in, Emrich said.
PHAs also reward and recognize proper mask wearing, Emrich said. If a PHA notices this, they may give out a raffle ticket. The DPS website reveals raffle winners each Tuesday. Until a ticket number is called, the ticket remains eligible to win each week.
Emrich said rolling applications remain open on the Handshake website, and training will take place following an interview. The position pays $18 an hour and is compatible with Pepperdine Work Program as well as Federal Work Study.
“I’m looking for folks who are friendly and reliable,” Emrich said. “This is work that you need to be doing with little supervision, [and PHAs] will go out in pairs, but they’re not going to be followed by a supervisor, and so I really need people who have a natural, inherent work ethic to do what they’ve been asked to do and what they’ve agreed to do.”
Student Thoughts on the PHA Position
Sophomore Asia Ford is a new Pepperdine Health Ambassador. Upon seeing the position advertised on Handshake, Ford said she felt inspired to apply because of her desire to keep the Pepperdine community healthy.
Ford hopes the light blue t-shirts worn by the PHAs will serve as a gentle reminder that face coverings are not only important but required by the University. She wants to make an impact through reducing COVID cases, she said.
“I’m from New York, and being isolated with COVID was not fun, and doing school online was not fun, so for us to stay here on campus and attend classes in person, we need to be safe in terms of wearing the mask properly,” Ford said.
Sophomore Tony Lin said he has immunocompromised loved ones as well as family members who work in the medical field. Seeing how the pandemic has affected their lives has caused him to become a devoted mask-wearer, Lin said.
Lin said he hopes the presence of the PHAs will cause more students to comply with the face-covering requirements because he knows these precautions are in place for the safety of everyone.
Lin comes from a Chinese cultural background in which mask wearing is far more common than it is in the United States, so he has always been comfortable wearing a face covering to prevent the spread of disease, he said.
“If [mask wearing] means things can return to normal, then so be it,” Lin said.
Lin finds working as a PHA to be a meaningful position, and he wants to remind everyone that complying with the rules can prevent so many lives from being lost — it is about protecting others as well as yourself, Lin said.
Similar Efforts of Colleges and Universities Around the Country
Many other colleges and universities around the country, including the University of Rochester and the University of North Carolina at Asheville, implemented programs similar to the Pepperdine Health Ambassadors.
The PHA initiative is fairly new because Pepperdine did not hold in-person classes during the 2020-21 school year, so the efforts of other institutions whose classes were in person can serve as a model to Pepperdine.
The University of North Carolina at Asheville has a website dedicated to COVID facts and information. The page also includes links to videos featuring some of UNC Asheville’s Student Health Ambassadors, who cover topics on how to stay safe — as well as expectations to follow COVID guidelines — for those who are on campus.
Zoe Black, University of Rochester’s program coordinator in the Health Promotion Office, said she started UR’s Public Health Ambassador program in Oct. 2020.
“Messaging coming from peers is a lot more impactful than messaging coming from employees and staff,” Black said.
During the 2020-21 school year, UR held some in-person classes while others remained online. Black said Public Health Ambassadors were student volunteers who promoted mask wearing via social media and other outlets rather than physically monitoring public spaces on campus.
This academic year, UR requires students to wear masks and get the COVID vaccine, and UR has seen its COVID cases drop since last year, Black said.
Thus, Black said UR retired its Public Health Ambassadors program after the spring semester of 2021, and the Student Health Advisory Committee now focuses on ensuring the community remains vigilant and safe through educational efforts.
This semester, the Public Health Ambassador initiative merged with UR’s Student Health Advisory Committee, which serves to promote wellness through education and hosting educational events, Black said.
What to Expect Moving Forward
As Pepperdine hires and trains more Health Ambassadors, the community can expect to see more light blue t-shirts serving as a reminder to properly wear masks, Emrich said. Although this initiative is new, it is already in full force.
“At this point in the semester, we know it’s no fun to wear a mask all day long, or for an hour in a class,” Brewster said. “But those are the LA County guidelines that are protecting us, and we’re doing well thus far, so there are a lot of reasons to celebrate campus behavior, and we’re working to improve it even more.”
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