By Lily Vining | Investigative Writer
On Tuesday, May 18th, Franklin & Marshall College announced the decision to require students, faculty, and staff to provide proof of vaccination to return to campus for the Fall semester. This announcement comes with the rise of vaccine availability across the United States and a reduction in COVID-19 cases in Lancaster County and the country as a whole. After the first mandate by Rutgers University, over five hundred other institutes of higher learning in the United States followed. The decision was made by members of the administration with guidance from Dr. Myers, the Pandemic Operations Report Team (PORT), and health and community safety consultants, as well as recommendations put forth by the CDC and American College Health Association (ACHA). “The ACHA recognizes that comprehensive COVID-19 vaccination is the most effective way for institutions of higher education (IHEs) to return to a safe, robust on-campus experience for students in fall semester 2021,” the association said. “Therefore, where state law and available resources allow, ACHA recommends COVID-19 vaccination requirements for all on-campus college and university students for fall semester 2021, in accordance with the IHE’s normal exemption practices, including exemptions for medical contraindications.”
Members of the PORT committee Professor Amelia Rauser and Deb Moriarty discussed the decision in the context of other required vaccinations. For over a century, public and private primary schools and colleges have enforced mandates for immunization against various highly infectious diseases like measles and hepatitis. Considering congregate living and learning spaces are conducive to the spread of illness, Moriarty said that she feels it is appropriate to include coronavirus in the list of these required immunizations. She also noted that the majority of students that she has spoken with have expressed enthusiasm to vaccinate and are “embracing getting back to normal” in the fall. For students and families seeking medical or religious exemption, the college is offering exemption request forms due by July 31st with support from robust state legislation for the protection of rights.
Many students received the first doses of the vaccine during the spring semester or upon returning home. According to the CDC, by the time the semester begins in September, about 65% of Americans, and 70% of Pennsylvanians, will be fully vaccinated. According to records from the Student Wellness Center, 30% of students have already submitted proof of vaccination with numbers rising daily, while less than a dozen have opted to send in a waiver for exemption. Melanie DeSantis, current chair of PORT, shared that nearly 65% of the college’s faculty and staff have already submitted proof of vaccination. One of the largest incentives, she said, is the ability to bypass weekly surveillance testing once fully vaccinated. For DeSantis and her colleagues, the ability to take off masks and meet in person has been a breath of fresh air and a large step forward.
As restrictions come down across the country, members of the F&M community are eager for a return to “normal” on campus in September. The college has already begun gradually opening up to more visitors, including hosting sports clinics and larger admissions touring groups. Masks are no longer required in outdoor spaces on campus, and fully vaccinated people are not required to wear one inside, either. The college will still require individuals who are not fully vaccinated to mask up inside. Students can also expect in-person classes, athletics, and shared housing to return from pre-pandemic. For vaccinated students, their arrival on campus will no longer be accompanied by entry testing and a quarantine period, and biweekly testing will not resume. For the small number of unvaccinated individuals on campus, they can expect a process similar to last year with an entry test, quarantine, and routine testing.
For Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett, this change from last year brings exciting possibilities. With students no longer confined to their dorm rooms for their first days on campus, orientation and pre-semester activities can resume in person. Hazlett also expressed her enthusiasm for a special Class of 2024 Sophomore Experience program to reorient students who spent the previous year in front of a computer screen. She and her colleagues are planning activities that will foster connection between first-years and sophomores and provide the full F&M experience.
While the feedback regarding the decision has been overwhelmingly positive, one concern is that some may not have access to vaccines, especially international students. The college is currently working to provide access for students to receive vaccinations upon returning to campus through the Student Wellness Center if they are not available in their home country. Additionally, those who have been immunized with vaccines not recognized by the World Health Organization will also be able to receive one of the three accepted vaccines upon arrival. Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions still in place in various countries, there is a possibility that some students will not be able to return to Lancaster immediately in the fall. However, for those able to return, the college is committed to providing support for their safe arrival.
Planning for the return to campus in the fall has left F&M’s faculty and staff filled with “excitement and hopefulness”, according to Prof. Rauser. She got choked up while thinking about everyone returning to the classrooms, students living together and forming stronger communities in the college houses, and a return to a “new normal” on campus. She also stated that athletic events will operate and be open to spectators this year, which provides another opportunity for students to interact with their peers.
Students can be further reassured that the only thing that will spread at sporting games is school pride. Almost all of F&M’s competitors in the Centennial Conference have also made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, including Dickinson, Bryn Mawr, and Gettysburg Colleges. The only school in the conference that has yet to release this announcement at the time of publishing is Washington College.
F&M and its neighbors are just a handful of countless institutes that have made this decision. As of June 12th, 494 colleges and universities in the United States have announced vaccine requirements for students to return in the fall, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. A trend has emerged among colleges imposing this requirement for student and community safety. The vast majority of schools requiring vaccinations are located in states that voted for Joe Biden in the presidential election. Just 40 of 494 colleges that have announced COVID-19 vaccine requirements are located in states that voted red in 2020. Of those 40, only 10 are public universities. Many Republican-run states have executive orders that prevent government agencies, including public and private colleges receiving funding from the state, from requiring proof of vaccination. Even states that do not have these orders in place, such as Utah, are unable to impose effective requirements due to options allowing individuals to personally decline vaccines.
Though some colleges and universities may be prevented from requiring vaccinations, they have found ways to incentivize protection against COVID-19 through giveaways and prizes. While many universities have found these incentives to be incredibly motivating for their students, those opposed argue that these tactics are not equitable or ethical in certain circumstances. Ultimately, colleges must find ways to protect their students, faculty, and staff from a resurgence of COVID-19 on campus, while maintaining equity and supporting personal beliefs.
Please refer to the COVID-19 Vaccination Information page with any further questions or concerns.
Sophomore Lily Vining is an Investigative Reporter. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.