By Olivia Nicoletti
Rider University is expecting to return to a somewhat normal semester this fall with their requirement of the COVID-19 vaccination for students. It has been recorded that 96% of students are vaccinated.
An exemption form was released for students who have medical or religious reasons to not get the vaccine. Those who are exempt but still attending in-person classes and living on campus will be put onto a confidential list before the semester starts.
According to an email sent by the COVID-19 Implementation Team on Sept. 1, 2021, unvaccinated students will be tested on a weekly basis. Approximately 150 students were approved to be exempt.
Some students who did not receive the vaccine or get approved for the exemption “… chose to take only online classes and agreed not to access campus at all this semester. Others have decided not to return this semester,” said the Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications, Kristine Brown. “No student who is not vaccinated or granted an exemption is allowed to access campus in any way this semester.”
Students starting the year without both shots of the vaccine will be following the same procedures as the non-vaccinated students. Students will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final shot.
From the same email from the COVID-19 Implementation Team said that, “Rider has temporarily established an indoor mask requirement for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. When the local transmission and infection rates improve, we hope that this universal masking requirement will be revisited for fully vaccinated students, faculty, and staff.”
Whether the mandate stands or not, unvaccinated students will be required to wear masks the entire year. The faculty is expected to enforce the mask mandate but no one is allowed to identify unvaccinated students.
“Students who do not comply with our COVID-19 protocols, whether our masking, testing or other COVID-19 related requirements, will be referred to the Office of Community Standards for a violation of our Student Code of Social Conduct, specifically 4.12 Failure to adhere to campus-wide pandemic/emergency directives,” said Brown. “Students found responsible risk loss of housing and other potential serious sanctions.”
According to the COVID-19 Implementation Team, the Student Health Center will contact Chris Botti, the COVID-19 case manager, when a student tests positive. He will then take the next steps in contacting the positive-tested student and identifying their recent close contacts.
Close contacts are considered anyone who has been in contact with a positive individual within 6 feet for 15 or more minutes, had physical contact, shared bodily fluids with and/or lives with them. A faculty member might need to help identify who has been in close contact with the student while in class.
Botti will then be able to reach out to close contacts and ensure they follow their appropriate protocols.
As stated in the email from the COVID-19 Implementation Team, unvaccinated individuals must quarantine themselves for 10 to 14 days and take a test five to seven days after the exposure. If they are negative, they can end quarantine on the tenth day. Vaccinated individuals do not need to be quarantined but will need to wear a mask for 14 days when around other people. They must also test three to five days after exposure.
According to Brown, the staff is 86% to 87% vaccinated. Most of the staff reported their status to Human Resources but those who did not are assumed to be unvaccinated.
“The University was confident that by working with our faculty, staff, and in particular our two unions (AFSCME and AAUP) and asking them to voluntarily provide their vaccination status, we would come to the same outcome and high vaccination rates as we are seeing now without the need to require vaccines,” said Brown. “… employees who do not provide their vaccine status are considered unvaccinated and are required to abide by the same masking and testing requirements as unvaccinated students.”
Sophomores Emily Meier, an undecided major, and Antigona Cana, an environmental studies major, have participated in the events during Welcome Week. Meier lived on campus during the spring semester while Cana lived at home, they both share the same desire for a normal fall semester.
Meier expresses her lack of social life in her previous year at Rider. She indicates that while living on campus whenever she would leave her room, “…it felt like a ghost town where barely anyone was outside doing anything.”
Meier is pleased with the atmosphere created at Welcome Week and already feels more comfortable at Rider and is excited for the upcoming semester to begin.
Cana said, “Being able to finally be on campus and get to know my school has been more fulfilling than working from home. I am able to get to know the campus and return to in-person classes which is more of a meaningful experience. All I have known for the past two years was online school, where I was never able to meet any professors or classmates. Now that I am finally able to do that my perspective as a student has changed drastically.”
In regards to student life, the guest policies for residents have changed as well.
The Residential Guest Policy goes as follows, “Guests for residential students will be limited to other residential students. No commuter students or off-campus guests will be permitted in the residential facilities. Overnight guests should be registered with the Residence Life staff. Please note this policy may change based on pandemic guidance. Residents should host no more than two guests per occupant.”
The Residential Guest Policy is one of the only complaints Meier has thus far.
“It has improved from the previous year but it is frustrating not being able to have outside guests, even if they are vaccinated and Rider students,” Meier said. “Besides that, going back to in-person classes will help make this semester feel more normal again. Being in a classroom environment alone will help make it feel more normal.”