CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The return to campus may come with a COVID-19 vaccine requirement as a growing number of colleges and universities announced students and staff will need to provide proof of vaccination this fall.
Johnson C. Smith University, Johnson & Wales University, Clinton College and Livingstone College are the schools in the Charlotte area that have announced they will require vaccination for the upcoming academic year.
“We’re just looking at it from a purely practical perspective of what it means to be safe and whole and respectful in community,” Lester McCorn, president of Clinton College in Rock Hill, said.
Clinton intends to return under a hybrid model in the fall: commuter students will continue their course work online, residential students will be required to be vaccinated before the start of the school year.
McCorn said, since they made the announcement, the response has been positive from students and faculty.
"They understand that this is a selfless act,” McCorn said. “You know we live in America, people can do whatever they wish to do. But for us, I think our folks understand that there is a sense of sacred responsibility to each other, so it’s not just my well-being it’s my brother and my sister’s well-being.”
Vaccine hesitance or aversion continues to be prevalent among Generation Z.
An NBC LX/Morning Consult survey conducted this spring reports 26% of Gen Z adults said they will not get the vaccine.
At Johnson C. Smith University, the push to vaccinate more of the student population began this spring, when the school hosted a vaccine clinic onsite.
“We’ve got to walk the walk if we’re going to talk the talk,” Dr. Davida Haywood, Vice President of Student Affairs, said.
The school held in-person commencement ceremonies over the weekend, the first large-scale gathering and taste of traditional campus life in more than a year.
Haywood said the return to campus this fall is the culmination of months of preparation. Residence halls at Johnson C. Smith and at Clinton College will house students at a reduced capacity, signage adorns many of the buildings and walkways on campus, additional safety precautions are in place.
Haywood said the vaccine requirement was the next step.
“Part of being in a collegiate environment is the sense of community and we have an obligation to care for those who are around us,” Haywood said.
Many of the larger, publicly funded universities like the University of North Carolina System plan to return next fall with vaccine recommendations but not official requirements.
According to a statement, JCSU will permit exemptions for certain medical or religious reasons. JCSU is still considering whether it will be able to offer a full complement of online courses.
Officials at JCSU and Clinton said the virtual model is not sustainable long-term for most privately funded schools. Vaccine requirements will help them return more students to campus safely.
“This is sort of the million-dollar question that a lot of universities are grappling with,” Haywood said. “This is a matter of sustainability. I don’t know how many of us could continue years of virtual and not have students on campus, we just would not survive.”