Southern Utah University held its first forum regarding the possibility of a vaccine mandate for Spring 2022 on Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. via Zoom. Students were invited to participate in the university-wide meeting to discuss their positions on the mandate.
The forum was held in response to the letter by Harris Simmons, chair of the Utah Board of Higher Education, which stated that Utah System of Higher Education Institutions have autonomy over requiring a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, with exceptions to “personal, religious, and medical reasons.”
SUU Interim President Mindy Benson opened the event, remarking that,”Before we make a decision, we wanted to gather information from our faculty and staff.”
Benson relayed that the University of Utah, Utah State University, Weber State University, and Utah Valley University have decided to implement a COVID vaccine requirement, which they will enact in Spring, 2022.
According to SUU’s website, administration hasn’t reached a conclusion on the issue, so they have opened up discussion in order to promote a culture of self-governance among their students and faculty. SUU asks for its members to participate in forums, surveys, and discussions in order for them to make a decision that is in agreement with the general consensus.
Vice President of Student Affairs Jared Tippets informed the forum of the exemptions individuals can claim to the vaccine mandate, which prompted the first student question: “If people can exempt themselves from the vaccine, what would be the mandate’s purpose, and would it even be effective?”
“Anyone can opt out for any reason,” Tippets said. “But it does make the statement that as an institution, we believe the vaccine is a viable resource to keep the population safe and well.”
Tippets said that by adopting the mandate, the university would be promoting a positive culture for getting vaccinated, which could lead to a decrease in COVID cases and curve the spread of the virus.
Other students worried that it is unsafe to attend classes at SUU without the mandate. Colton Smith, chief justice of Southern Utah University Student Association, posted in the comment section, “I think we need to clarify that freedom of choice does not bestow the right to expose others to harm. You are never protected by law to expose others to unnecessary risk of harm or death.”
Jacob Gunderson, another student, said that he supported the vaccine, but not the mandate. He said he believed that the vaccine mandate is a polarized issue that infringes on the rights of those who do not want to be vaccinated.
Some students were displeased with the idea of a vaccine requirement. SUU student Chris Quick spoke out for students who oppose the vaccination requirement. “It is against our right to privacy to provide information regarding vaccination status.” Quick posted in the comment section, “If you want the vaccine then get it, if you don’t then don’t get it.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of people spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.” The site also states that getting vaccinated will reduce the risk of becoming seriously ill because the immune system will be trained to fight the virus. The vaccine takes two weeks to be effective, so there is still a possibility that vaccinated persons could contract COVID-19.
Students also voiced that they are concerned about the current guidelines dictating SUU’s COVID-19 policy. Since there is only a recommendation for wearing masks on campus, these students believe that the spread of the virus is inevitable. According to SUU’s COVID-19 guidelines, the school is a “mask-recommended” campus.
Brianna Schneider, an SUU student, shared her concerns for the future. “With the surging case counts and hospitalizations, I think we should be concerned about where things are going at our current level of vaccination and masking,” Schneider wrote. “SUU needs to be a leader in the community and encourage vaccination and masking, which only seems possible through a mandate.”
The question of mandatory vaccination for SUU is still in debate. SUU is encouraging students to get vaccinated and further inform themselves about the vaccine through information provided by the CDC. The next forum will be held Sept. 14 at noon via zoom.
Story: Danielle Meuret firstname.lastname@example.org