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Vaccination U

Why mandatory vaccines bolster the campus experience.

I’m entering my tenth year as a professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. This is a state with a history of a fraught relationship with education; this pandemic moment shows we are also a state with a fraught relationship with truth.

CDC/ Unsplash
Source: CDC/ Unsplash

South Carolina consistently ranks very low compared to other states in terms of the number of people educated and the quality of their education. This is a beautiful place with an interrelated constellation of some of the ugliest social problems including low education rankings; high poverty, obesity and adverse health outcomes; systemic racism and homophobia; and unusually high rates of intimate partner murder relative to the rest of the nation.

One obvious thing we can do to improve our campus environments and bolster the health and economy of the state is to do everything possible to ensure that college-bound students and college and university employees get vaccinated. This will be essential for students to get to fully enjoy the rich array of opportunities on campus and the intimacy that can result from these.

Getting vaccinated is also a way to live out some of the most important lessons imbued in the college experience. This doesn't just apply to my university system and home state of South Carolina but to all institutions in all states.

Getting the vaccine shows that we value scientific data and the production of knowledge, both of which are central aspects of any academic enterprise. Going to college is one pathway to becoming a citizen who contributes to the good of the community, and vaccinations are a key part of public health. I'm reminded of communities in which I have lived and the indelible mark left on me from my own education. I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where the motto is, “A community is known by the schools it keeps.” After college, I earned a doctorate at Brandeis University, whose motto is “truth even unto its innermost parts.” These messages resonate now more than ever and we would do well to heed them.

As a sociologist, one thing I impart to my students many times throughout the semester is the importance—actually, the necessity—of thinking about the world beyond ourselves. Getting the vaccine is arguably the strongest current example of an action that individuals can take in their own lives that shows mindful regard and an ethic of care for what it means to inhabit a larger community.

Hundreds of colleges and universities are in states where it is permissible to mandate vaccinations before people can return to campus. This makes sense. It honors and prioritizes that which we claim higher education is about—robust inquiry and rigorous evaluation of scientific data. Our individual and public health, and the integrity and solvency of our educational system, should not depend so heavily on the state in which one lives.

In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster’s executive order barring vaccine mandates at state colleges and other public facilities obfuscates scientific truth in the interest of profit. Interestingly, two of the very best institutions of higher education in this state are Furman University and Wofford College, both of which are private and require vaccinations. Most of the highest-ranked institutions across the country are also on the list requiring vaccinations. This should tell us something. The American College Health Association recommends mandatory vaccination wherever states permit it. This, too, should tell us something.

Why should working in public service toward the betterment of our states make us have to suffer? To ensure the utmost health and safety, the current options for educators seem to be either securing jobs at private schools, even though many of us believe strongly in the mission of public schools, or moving to a state that better cares about the welfare of its citizens.

On every front, we must do better. And it can start with vaccines. The quality of the nation depends on it.

Note: An earlier version of this article was published in The Post and Courier on June 13, 2020.


American College Health Association (ACHA)…