The university needs to do more to pull their weight so we can achieve herd immunity
As Concordians return to campus this week, many for the first time in over a year, and many more for the first time ever, there are still a lot of questions about students’ safety that the university administration has left up in the air.
Throughout the summer, it seemed as if information regarding reopening trickled into student inboxes as slow as a broken faucet. With only four emails sent by Student Communications relating to the possibility of on-campus activity throughout the entire summer, the reality of an “irl” semester has been hazy to most.
Even now as we begin the fall semester in earnest, the university should be doing more to ensure both student, faculty, and staff safety as we enter COVID-19’s fourth wave and clearly communicate those safety measures.
While it is commendable that Concordia has strengthened its vaccine policy in recent days, now requiring proof of vaccination for many on-campus activities, this move was too little, too late. Proof of vaccination should be required not just for extra-curricular activities, but for classes as well, in order to keep faculty and immunocompromised students safe.
The fact that Concordia has only now imposed a vaccine mandate for extra-curricular activities is short-sighted and lags behind its American counterparts. In the United States, over 800 universities, and all of the top 25 ranked institutions are requiring proof of vaccination for students in some capacity, many of them requiring it for class attendance. And it’s not just American universities, who due to the United State’s vaccine production, had a much faster rollout. Many Ontario universities are following suit. York University, Queen’s University, the University of Guelph, and Ontario Tech University all require proof of vaccination for students returning to campus.
On Aug. 26, McGill University strengthened its vaccine requirements for on-campus activities. Now, McGill students will need the Quebec vaccine passport to attend events like sports games and conferences, as well as access certain residence common areas, and more. While this move was a last-minute addition before the start of the semester, students would already need the passport starting Sept. 1 to do many other activities around the city because of the government mandate.
Concordia seems to be following McGill’s strategy of only regulating some activities which, at first glance, might pose a larger risk. However, there are many Concordia classes boasting over 50 students to a room. So, requiring vaccination for outdoor events of over 60 people, but not for indoor classes of the same size doesn’t quite hold up under scrutiny.
While it is impossible to say at this moment how the Quebec vaccine passport app will pan out, due to its quick and simple registration process, it’s safe to assume that the system will be fairly streamlined and unobtrusive. However, getting students vaccinated is another issue altogether.
Hannah Jamet-Lange, academic & advocacy coordinator at the Concordia Student Union (CSU), believes that the university has a decent way to go in terms of ensuring students are adequately informed about vaccination. In an open letter to President Carr, Provost and Vice-President Academic Whitelaw, and the whole Concordia administration, the CSU stated that it would only favour a vaccine mandate if the university was to put in checks for students with preexisting health conditions, religious objections, and international students unable to get the vaccine before their arrival in Canada.
Jamet-Lange explained, “Basically, we just want to be sure that the implementation of a vaccine mandate does not cause further exclusion of international students and students who cannot get the vaccine for medical reasons, while also wanting the university to actually acknowledge that a lot of people do not feel safe returning to campus knowing that people they sit in a small room with for three hours are not vaccinated.”
Moving further from simply a vaccination mandate, Jamet-Lange explains that many students have voiced their concern about Concordia’s overall safety measures. “A lot of students have health concerns, for themselves, their loved ones, and the general community,” they explained. “We also have a lot of student parents at Concordia who are concerned about infecting their children who have not yet been able to receive a vaccine, especially if schools were to shut down at any point or classes need to stay home for a certain amount of time due to a COVID outbreak.”
All in all, Concordia’s safety approach must flow and change with the ongoing situation. However, it has felt more like a game of catch-up than a resolute plan to keep students safe.
The CSU points to measures such as an on-campus vaccination site, clear information on contract tracing and social distancing, and the option of online learning as ways for the university to ease concerns from students. These are all good ideas, and will surely lead to a safer campus environment. If Concordia started shifting to a preemptive communication approach, informing students of possible COVID-19-related changes (earlier than a few days before they go into effect), then we may start to feel more comfortable around campus again.
Graphic by Madeline Schmidt