The district is finally discussing mandating COVID-19 vaccines for students, making us the last college in the surrounding area to do so. But unlike every other school in the state, RSCCD is the only one considering a “personal” exemption, which will be granted for virtually any reason.
Another idea, mentioned at the Nov. 8 board meeting by Trustee John Hanna, was rather than to mandate vaccines, look at possibly adopting a full masking policy.
Both of these, and anything other than a vaccine mandate for any students and employees on campus not medically or religiously exempt is a disservice to students and the entire institution of higher learning.
Experts across the board almost unanimously agree that being vaccinated is not only the best choice on a personal level for most, but also the best choice for public health overall. Vaccines have been widely available since mid-spring and Pfizer’s vaccine has had full FDA approval since August. Between pharmacies, free clinics and incentive programs, chances are if someone isn’t vaccinated by now, they made a conscious decision not to.
Choosing not to get vaccinated is similar to choosing to be a nudist. You absolutely have the right to choose what you don’t want on your body. You are free to hang out in your house, or in spaces where everyone around has agreed to live the same lifestyle, and have that autonomy to make that decision for yourself. But most stores have “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs. Your kid’s school award ceremony is not clothing-optional, and if you don’t want to work from home pants are expected.
We as a society have agreed that for the good of public health or common decency there is a point where our personal liberties stop. This is just as true for vaccines as it is for clothing. We spend the majority of our academic career (k-12) with a laundry list of vaccines that are both required and generally accepted as necessary. Now that Pfizer’s vaccine has full FDA approval, it’s no different. Science overwhelmingly supports the importance of receiving the COVID vaccine, those that choose not to take it (as opposed to those unable to for medical or religious purposes) are choosing to either deny science or deny their responsibilities as a social participant.
Which brings us back to the personal exemption. By allowing a personal exemption, they are reinforcing the dangerous idea that everyone’s say is equally valid which absolutely is not and should not be true. A student (or random person on the street) does not have the same education and experience as someone who has dedicated years of their life to the study of a particular topic. To say that their views are of the same worth is an insult to the expert, but also to the entire concept of higher education. If an opinion is equally worthwhile rather it comes from a doctor or a layperson, there’s really no point in bothering to get a degree anymore.
It also shows the district’s lack of commitment to our local community. Latinos account for over 50% of COVID deaths in California. By being the last district to mandate vaccines and the only one to offer a catch all exemption, we are inviting those unvaccinated individuals into our community and saying that Santa Ana, one of the hardest hit cities in the county, can deal with a little more loss, as long as it helps the bottom line.
And in regards to adopting a full masking policy (i.e. everyone wears a mask on campus at all times regardless of vaccine status), screw you. At the beginning of 2020 classes that I purposely took in-person were forced online under the idea that dealing with it for a couple weeks would be in the best interest of public health. I accepted it, but my grades and motivation suffered. I was told to mask up at all times to protect those around me as well as myself until a vaccine came so as not to overwhelm the medical system. As an asthmatic, I wheezed my way through it. I was told getting vaccinated was the fastest way to “get back to normal,” so I signed up as soon as I was eligible.
I, and many others who are now vaccinated, have jumped through every damn hoop put in front of us to do our part for the good of everyone around us, to get our lives back to normal. So now normalcy is within reach, and rather than moving forward towards it, they want to entertain the idea of moving back to where we were almost two years ago, masking up at all times, just so we don’t offend or endanger people who have made it clear they are unwilling to show us the same consideration.
The only answer is a vaccine mandate without the personal exemption. Anyone who doesn’t want to take the vaccine has the choice not to do so and opt for virtual classes instead, and with 80% of classes being online at this point, it’s hard to argue that they would be discriminated against.
Yes there are students who have said they won’t return if a vaccine mandate is put in effect, but to make that decision at this point means to quit higher education altogether since all surrounding community colleges, UCs and CSUs also have vaccine mandates in effect. Stop pandering to a minority that doesn’t reflect the values of the education system, step up, and do the right thing. If this is the hill they want to die on, let them. At home. Away from everyone who’s spent the last two years being socially responsible.