As the fall semester kicks off, many students have eagerly anticipated Westmont’s return to a semblance of normalcy. For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Westmont can host classes indoors, gather for thrice-weekly chapel, and enjoy physically connecting in a post-Zoom semester.
The percentage of Westmont students on campus with the COVID-19 vaccine is at 74.6%, according to Jason Tavarez, Westmont’s director of institutional resilience. This statistic points to one of the most notable decisions made by Westmont regarding COVID-19. Unlike other local colleges, such as UCSB and Santa Barbara Community College, Westmont has elected not to mandate the COVID-19 vaccination. When asked about this decision, Dr. Edee Schulze, vice president for student life, stated, “It is consistent for us to not require the [COVID-19] vaccine” because “Westmont doesn’t require other vaccinations.”
This decision does not mean that unvaccinated and vaccinated students will face identical safety restrictions. When asked about unvaccinated students, Dr. Schulze emphasized how the widespread availability of the vaccine means that “those who don’t get vaccinated are taking responsibility for their own health … They have chosen a particular path and there may be outcomes and ramifications for them for that choice.” Some of these outcomes and ramifications are detailed on the updated Westmont COVID-19 2021-2022 protocol page.
Both Schulze and Tavarez emphasized that Westmont strongly encourages all students and community members to get vaccinated. They also articulated that the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing death and hospitalization from COVID-19.
Notably, unvaccinated students will continue to participate in random testing and, should Westmont run out of isolation housing, may be asked to quarantine off-campus. This ten-day quarantine will occur either at the student’s home or at the Best Western in Santa Barbara, for which they may be expected to pay out-of-pocket. Schulze, when asked about potential financial strains on unvaccinated students, said, “We will work with [families] to make the necessary arrangements, responding to these situations on a case-by-case basis.”
In contrast, vaccinated students will not be randomly tested. Instead, they will only be tested if they are in contact with a person who has tested positive, or if they request voluntary testing. Should a vaccinated student contract COVID-19, Westmont will cover associated housing and meal fees if they need to quarantine off-campus.
These additional protocols for unvaccinated students, who comprise roughly one quarter of students on campus, seem unfair to some students. “Forcibly removing [room and board] in the event of [COVID-19] diagnosis [for unvaccinated students] in contrast from the vaccinated is an unequal standard,” stated one student who requested to remain anonymous. “In light of this double standard, I am left in doubt of the effort that the administration will make to accommodate the student body in its entirety,” the student concluded, when asked if they believe they will be supported by Westmont in the event they contract COVID-19.
At the same time, COVID-19 protocols have caused frustration for some vaccinated students, like second-year Kinzie Warne-McGraw. “It makes me uncomfortable,” said Warne-McGraw, regarding Westmont’s policies to allow unvaccinated students to return on top of the resumption of in-person events, such as chapel. “I want to be in a safe learning environment,” she continued, noting how, despite mask instructions, “I have already seen, in chapel, so many people not wearing masks.” Warne-McGraw noticed this pattern extended to other areas of campus life, including the Dining Commons. She went on to mention how eating instructions in the Dining Commons and the lack of social distancing in chapel force unvaccinated and vaccinated students “in super-close proximity with each other” often without masks on. Warne-McGraw feels that this pattern is unsafe.
While she believed that her teachers will try to support students if they contract COVID-19, Kinzie noted, “It seems like the assumption is you are just going to miss classes. A lot of my teachers aren’t providing Zoom [in conjunction with in-person instruction] … so in that sense, I feel like I will be behind in classes.”
Until upward COVID-19 trends slow and nationwide vaccination rates increase, a return to total normalcy seems unlikely. As a result, Westmont’s shifting policies and protocols will remain a pressing topic in the minds of students and faculty for the foreseeable future.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, click here
For more information about Westmont’s COVID-19 policies, click here