In a policy released in November, the University of Auckland has announced that staff, students and visitors to campuses must be fully vaccinated from the beginning of January 2022. To access facilities, individuals must possess a valid vaccination certificate, allowing the University to take a significant step in ensuring safety. While the University gathered responses from 2500 students to make their decision, what do the student population think when given a chance to voice their opinions in an anonymous environment? Recently, I found out.
The majority of students are in support of the vaccination mandate, unsurprisingly. Citing events like the 2020 fire evacuation of OGGB, students have expressed concerns that alternative measures to enforce social distancing on campus would be impractical considering the size of the University population. Some have noted that even with masks, there is “no way for the university to thoroughly cleanse lecture halls” between classes, which could easily result in widespread infection.
In regards to enforcing the mandate, the AUSA President for 2022, Alofa So’olefai, has stated that the current plan underway is to experiment with “random spot checks” in buildings.
Alofa echoes the University’s official sentiment that, of course, student safety is paramount and whatever is best for the campus is what allows the population to “undertake their studies successfully.”
Based on her personal experiences, she notes that if it was a family choice, she’d be from home for the foreseeable future — and, as I’m sure we all know, she wouldn’t be the only one in this scenario. It’s not only students that need to be considered, but their families and loved ones – a reminder that the impact of covid is far-reaching.
Summer school courses have put emphasis on optional attendance, emphasising personal choice far more than in pre-Delta conditions.
AUSA has already expressed concern with how enforceable this will be in practice but acknowledge that the University is racing against time. While it’s unclear if this has been amended by the time of publishing, the staff of AUSA are in the dark about potential further steps, which is concerning considering they represent the main impacted group. A possibility is that vaccine passes are needed to enrol in courses, though the timing means that many students will have already completed this step before the policy was announced, when slots first opened for courses in 2022.
Some students note that while the policy is a great idea, the University should be doing more to target specifically hesitant individuals to promote overall safety, such as internal presentations around prominent sites to educate on the vaccine’s efficacy. One Māori-identifying student noted it would be a good opportunity for some informative kaupapa. At the same time, another agreed with the idea that everything surrounding vaccination should come from a place of support and education.
Upon publication, summer school has already begun, and with it, an adequate trial period. Whether this will become long term remains to be seen, but overall, the campus community is mostly in favour of the recent decisions. They are certainly more supportive of this than some of the University’s past choices, and it will be interesting to see how 2022 unfolds under the new normal.