With more than 18,000 cases reported on just the first day of the new year, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact the province of Ontario. The exponential increase is making it difficult for the university to reinstate in-person classes. At this time, the university has set a date of January 31 to re-evaluate the situation and decide what will happen next.
Currently, the university requires all students to have both vaccine doses. Those who are unable to provide proof of vaccination will be prohibited from returning to campus and will also be deregistered from classes. The mandate has left several students concerned and frustrated about the situation.
The Medium interviewed students at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus as well as the St. George campus to find out how this vaccine has impacted their studies.
Cyrus Joshua Mena, a third-year student completing a specialist in Biotechnology at UTM, mentions that vaccine protocols are not a concerning issue for him.
“I don’t really mind following vaccine protocols because in high school we had to provide proof of vaccination for polio, measles, etc. all the time. It’s nothing new.”
Mena finds UCheck, U of T’s self-assessment tool, to be a helpful resource, as it enables him to access all amenities on campus including the library and study rooms. Mena, and many other students who are vaccinated, continue to have access to certain resources, making their experience a little easier.
For some, it provides a sense of comfort that these regulations are being upheld and practiced within their place of education.
“But this doesn’t affect me because I’m fully vaccinated, and it doesn’t affect my studies at all because I’m staying at home anyway.” Many find that implementing a vaccine mandate allows for an easier transition to safe in-person instruction.
Mena hopes that there will be a future return to in-person learning on campus and that the university will find a way to accommodate students who are unvaccinated.
“The best way for the university to deal with this is to give students options,” he explains. He goes on to say that online courses can be distracting for students which is why it is important to consider implementing a dual delivery mode.
Preferring to stay anonymous, another third-year student in the Life Sciences Program shares her concerns for unvaccinated students.
“Knowing those around me were vaccinated, medically exempt, or had rapid-tested negative that day gave me a sense of safety that I am so grateful to have had, especially considering mRNA vaccines’ incredible efficacy against the alpha and delta strains of Covid-19.”
She goes on to mention that she feels more comfortable knowing others around her are taking the necessary actions to stay safe. “Being a healthcare worker myself, I felt more secure and comfortable attending things in-person knowing my chances of picking up the virus at school and giving it to my colleagues and patients at work was reduced. “
However, the mandate has also had a major negative impact on those who are not vaccinated. Students like Amanda Mihalaros, are finding the regulations dismissive of student needs and unfair to those who are not vaccinated.
Mihalaros is a first-year Life Sciences student at the St. George campus and demands for greater action to be taken by the U of T campus.
“Everyone has the right to make their own medical decisions, and they shouldn’t have to choose between their degree or job, and a decision that they feel is the best for them,” she explains.
Mihalaros is one of many students that have been removed from her courses in the new year. Her decision to disclose her vaccination status has largely hindered her ability to progress in academics.
“Due to my non-disclosure, the mandate prevented me from both living in residence and attending campus, meaning I had no other choice but to only take online courses. I was trying to hide my situation from my roommates because I was scared about what their reaction would be. I was scared to be judged.”
Even though students who are not vaccinated or are not disclosing their status are expected to fill out an exemption form, many like Mihalaros are finding the university to be inconsiderate of U of T’s unvaccinated population.
“I was constantly receiving threatening emails from the school; either upload proof of vaccination or be de-enrolled from classes.”
Mihalaros also shares her experience when attempting to contact U of T for further guidance on the situation, “When I would call to seek help regarding my situation, [they] told me ‘too bad,’ and that uploading my status is the only way to continue my studies. To say that this mandate impacted my studies is an understatement. The mandate and continuous changes in policy have led to disappointment after disappointment and have left me in a state of complete uncertainty about what my future holds.”
Several students who are in a similar situation are calling upon the university to provide more options for those not disclosing their status to be fair and equal.
With safety being the key concern now, the university will continue to analyze the situation at hand. The surge of new Covid-19 cases is making it difficult for students to have stability in their academics. Many students believe that speaking up during this time is important to strike change while considering the experiences of all.
Razia is currently completing a specialist in molecular biology with minors in chemistry and statistics. She began writing for The Medium as a news writer over a year ago and took this opportunity as a way to challenge herself and step out of her comfort zone. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, painting, photography, and is a music enthusiast. She is also a huge Potterhead (anyone in Ravenclaw?!). For any queries, you can connect with her through LinkedIn.