Local colleges weigh in on vaccine requirements

May 3, 2021 | Reminder Publishing news staff

WESTERN MASS. – As colleges wrap up their Spring 2021 semester and plan for the 2021-2022 school year, many campuses are faced with the decision on whether they will require students to be vaccinated prior to the fall 2021 semester.

Reminder Publishing reached out to local higher educational institutions to find out where they stand with this issue.

Holyoke Community College

Students attending Holyoke Community College (HCC) moving forward will not be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine before attending in-person classes. In a joint statement released by community college presidents in the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges (MACC) they said while they would urge staff and students at MACC to get vaccinated as soon as they could, they would not require vaccinations for the fall 2021 semester.

While HCC would continue to offer fully remote classes and hybrid classes, they will also offer many classes meeting “100 percent in person.” In the statement, HCC President Christina Royal said the college was aware that some local universities and colleges had announced vaccine mandates, but HCC would not be implementing such a mandate at this time.

“We are aware that some residential colleges have announced vaccine mandates for students before they return to campus,” HCC President Christina Royal said in a separate statement. “As of this moment, HCC does not have such a policy for students who elect to take in-person classes in the fall. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have followed health and safety guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and the state Dept. of Public Health, in consultation with our legal counsel, and we will continue to do so going forward.”

HCC Director of Admissions, Mark Hudgik, said they expect that the transmission of the virus would be decreased in the fall significantly as more residents continued to get vaccinated throughout the summer and into the fall. “As more residents of Massachusetts are able to be vaccinated throughout the spring and summer, we expect that the spread of COVID-19 will be greatly reduced by fall,” he said.

He added that while HCC would not be requiring students to be vaccinated they would still be taking steps to ensure the safety of staff and students who chose to attend in-person classes for the fall semester. “We will still be taking steps to mitigate exposure. For example, masks and social distancing will be required, on campus, class sizes will be smaller, and we will continue to monitor the situation and be prepared to shift to remote learning if necessary. However, we think this is an important step on the return to normal life,” he said.

Mount Holyoke College

While Mount Holyoke College did not return Reminder Publishing’s request for comment, according to an update posted to the college’s website the university will require students to be vaccinated in order for them to return to campus for the fall 2021 semester. The statement, which was released on April 23, also stated that they expected “all members of the Mount Holyoke campus community to be vaccinated,” but did not specify if this included staff as well.

The statement went on to say requiring members of the community to be vaccinated would “greatly reduce the risk of infection for all.” It continued, “We expect there will be very limited exceptions and will be working to set up structures to ensure compliance and to vaccinate those students who are unable to be vaccinated before returning to campus.”

The college is urging members of the community anticipating returning to campus in the fall to schedule their vaccination as soon as possible in their place of residence.

 University of Massachusetts Amherst

Students at the University of Massachusetts’s flagship campus in Amherst will need to be fully vaccinated before they are allowed on campus this fall. Ed Blaguszewski, executive director of strategic communications and special assistant to the vice-chancellor for university relations directed Reminder Publishing to online guidelines on the topic. The guidelines, which were updated on April 23, make exceptions for those with religious or disability accommodations.

The guidelines for international students state that they may be vaccinated in their home country or once they arrive in the United States. Students that have not been able to be vaccinated “should be able to get vaccinated at UMass when they arrive in Massachusetts.” That said, the school cautioned that Massachusetts receives a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses from the federal government each week.

Unvaccinated students will be allowed to enroll but cannot attend class or move into on-campus housing until they have received their immunizations. The guidelines state that there will be no remote option for unvaccinated students.

Despite the vaccination requirements, UMass Amherst stated that it will continue to adhere to masking and distancing, “if recommended.”

Vaccinations for faculty and staff are “strongly encouraged and recommended,” but it is not a mandate.

Springfield Technical Community College

According to Jim Danco, coordinator of media relations for Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), at the present moment, the Springfield-based institution is joining its 14 sister community colleges in Massachusetts in not mandating that students receive a COVID-19 vaccination as a requirement to return to classes in the fall.

As stated in a recent release from the college to students and faculty, “Considerations for the fall semester continue to develop and are subject to change, but the community colleges are not contemplating COVID-19 vaccine mandates at this time. It is essential that we meet the needs of all of our students, who are often from the communities hit hardest by this pandemic and facing disproportionate access to the COVID-19 vaccine. And now, it is more important than ever to prioritize equity, and creating additional barriers for our students would go against our critically important mission of open access for all.” 

Western New England University

According to Western New England University Assistant Director of Public Relations Judy Curran, the college had not made a decision regarding vaccine requirements for students for the fall semester as of press time.

 Westfield State University

Westfield State University (WSU) announced April 27 that it would require all students and staff returning to campus in the fall to be vaccinated.

WSU Interim President Roy H. Saigo said the university has had a relatively low positivity rate among students and faculty, the result of the majority of people on campus following guidelines.

“I give all the credit to our students,” said Saigo. “They practice safety, cleaning and wearing masks. We’re really proud of what the students have done.”

Saigo said as the fall semester approaches, WSU will continue to follow guidelines.

“We’re paying close attention to the state Public Health Department, CDC and the local Board of Health to take our cues,” Saigo said.

WSU Student Government Association President Sam Tsongalis is set to graduate in two weeks and said he believes requiring vaccines is the right thing to do.

“Nine out of 10 of my friends are already vaccinated,” Tsongalis said. “I was excited and relieved to see this decision to mandate vaccines – it’s a means to get back to some sort of normal.”

Asnuntuck Community College

According to Leigh Appleby, director of communications for Asnuntuck, Connecticut State Community Colleges in general are working closely with state and local public health partners to “vaccinate as many students, faculty, and staff as possible.”

“In addition to direct outreach to make clear the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, we plan on hosting on-site vaccination clinics at the colleges in coming weeks,” said Appleby. “Our colleges plan to be fully on-ground for the fall semester, and widespread vaccination is key not just to keep everyone safe and healthy, but also getting back to a sense of normalcy.”

According to the Asnuntuck website, the campus is closed to the public but open to students taking classes on campus or who have appointments on campus. Masks are still required on campus, too.

At the moment, students who attend the college can either take classes online; take them online with a live instructor, take them in-person, participate in hybrid learning, or take online classes with occasional on-campus meetings.

Elms College

Elms College has not yet finalized whether they will require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccination before returning to campus.

“We are assessing our options at this point and will finalize our fall semester plans soon,” said Bill Russo-Appel, communications and public relations manager for Elms College.

 Springfield College

Springfield College is another local college still looking into their options when it comes to a COVID-19 vaccination mandate. According to Stephen A. Roulier, vice president for communications and external affairs at Springfield College, they hope to reach a decision in the next week.

“As eligibility and access for COVID-19 vaccines expands to everyone, we continue to cautiously consider how a vaccine mandate may help Springfield College continue to provide a safe and robust college experience, particularly as we offer fully in-person learning on campus this fall,” said Roulier.

 American International College

American International College (AIC) will not be requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus in the fall. However, Matthew Scott, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at AIC, said the college is encouraging it.

“At this time, AIC is strongly encouraging, but not requiring, the vaccine for the fall. We will continue to follow the Massachusetts guidance regarding vaccinations for college students and will review this policy as vaccines become more widely available and move from emergency use authorization to full authorization,” said Scott.

Smith College

In a letter provided to Reminder Publishing by Smith College Senior Director for News and Strategic Communications Stacey Schmeidel, President Kathleen McCartney announced that all students would be required to receive the vaccine ahead of the 2021-2022.

“Smith College will require all undergraduate and graduate students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to returning to campus this fall. As with other required vaccinations, requests for medical or religious exemptions will be reviewed and accommodated on a case-by-case basis,” she wrote.

Along with requiring the vaccine, Smith also offered a vaccine clinic for all students participating in the school’s COVID-19 screening program.

“By offering on-campus vaccine clinics on April 24 and 25, we are making it possible for students who want to get the vaccine on campus to be fully vaccinated before they leave for summer break. By providing an on-campus option, Smith will reduce the burden on local vaccination clinics and give students the opportunity to schedule and receive both vaccine doses prior to the college’s move-out date,” McCartney wrote.

For international students that may not be fully vaccinated prior to returning, McCartney wrote the college will help find a vaccine.

Schmeidel added over email that the vaccine requirement was another part of the college’s COVID-19 plan.

“Smith’s ‘Culture of Care’ COVID plan has always taken a multi-pronged approach to promoting a safe and healthy campus environment, including masks, social distancing, asymptomatic testing, and more. Now that vaccines are more widely available, we appreciate being able to incorporate them into our plan,” she wrote.

Hampshire College

Hampshire College in Amherst will require COVID-19 vaccinations for students for the Fall 2021 semester. All vaccinated students will be welcomed to return to campus for in-person learning. Chief Advancement Officer Jennifer Chrysler said that Hampshire College benefits in this scenario from being able to give every student a single room.

“Hampshire is fortunate that our housing affords all of our students the opportunity to live in single rooms, whether in dorms or mod style housing,” said Chrysler.

In the 2020/2021 academic year, 425 students lived on campus and 45 students lived off campus and commuted to their classes. Fifty-five students chose to study remotely during that time.

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