Students Divided over Updated University of Akron COVID Protocols

After UA announced updated protocols for COVID vaccination on Oct. 26, 2021, students at the university share their opinions on the decision to implement these mandates.


Photo via Alyssa Alexsonshk

University of Akron campus.

By Abigail Geiser, Correspondent

After a brief period of what seemed like reconsideration, The University of Akron joined multiple universities in the state of Ohio to implement a vaccination mandate for students, faculty, and staff. 

UA’s protocols were updated on Oct. 26, after they announced their intent to reconsider their policy, to require “all members” of the University of Akron community “be fully vaccinated by Dec. 13, 2021,” and provide proof of vaccination, or be approved for an exemption, according to the announcement. 

Exemptions may be requested for medical reasons, sincerely held religious beliefs or reasons of conscience, but must be approved by the university before Nov. 19. The process for requesting an exemption has now been streamlined so the request no longer has to be notarized. Only a “short statement” that outlines the reasons of religious belief or reasons of conscience, and documentation from a licensed health care provider for medical exemption is required, said the announcement. 

In addition to vaccinations, the university is keeping its current indoor masking requirement in place, as well as requiring face coverings on all forms of public transportation, keeping in line with CDC requirements. 

In the updated protocols that UA released on Oct. 26, the university also announced that “as of Oct25, 2021, 70.3% of employees have verified that they have been fully vaccinated; 60.9% of students have verified their vaccination status.” 

Students have mixed feelings about the mandate. 

“I feel that those numbers speak to the complexity of this issue and why we need to choose a path of empathy and education rather than enforcement,” Jack Ohliger, a graduate student in the NEOMFA Creative Writing program and TA on-campus, said. “I believe that many are understandably looking for someone they can trust, so they can feel more comfortable about making this decision. I believe that our academic faculty, through empathy, education, and relationship building with our students, can act as that trustworthy party. 

“I think the mandate is what UA needs – I was disappointed that UA did not immediately require the vaccine.” 

Cadence Dangerfield 

“I feel disappointed,” Cadence Dangerfield, a third-year commuter student, said regarding the percentage of vaccinated employees and students. “I think the mandate is what UA needs – I was disappointed that UA did not immediately require the vaccine.” 

Dangerfield plans on taking a combination of both online and in-person courses in the spring 2022 semester. It is all of the university’s COVID-19 protocols that have impacted her decision to take in-person classes – not just the vaccine mandate. 

“I think that if the mask mandate were to be taken away in the spring, I would require the ability to take all of my classes virtually,” Dangerfield said. 

Dangerfield is not the only student who feels that university’s COVID-19 protocols affect her scheduling for next semester. 

Kayla Brewer, a senior child and family development major who currently works in the Office of Accessibility and commutes to the university, said that she will be taking her courses all online in the spring 2022 semester. 

“In all honesty, the protocols do not make me feel any safer going in person. In a school setting with so many people I think it should be a vaccine mandate,” Brewer explains, “but [still] I don’t want to be around many people.” 

Kayla Brewer 

“In all honesty, the protocols do not make me feel any safer going in person,” Brewer said. “In a school setting with so many people I think it should be a vaccine mandate,” Brewer explains, “but [still] I don’t want to be around many people.” 

The University of Akron originally told students at the beginning of the year that if they verified their vaccination status, they would not have to participate in the randomly-selected COVID-19 testing as an incentive for getting vaccinated. 

However, this piece of policy has been updated with the new protocols to also include vaccinated individuals who have potential exposure to the virus, as well as vaccinated individuals who fit several other criteria. 

“Those individuals who do not provide the required documentation or who request and receive an exemption will be subject to up-to-twice-weekly testing protocols, as will others, including some who are fully vaccinated and for whom there is reason to believe such testing is warranted,” the new protocols state. 

Reasons for testing being warranted mentioned in the protocols include, but are not limited to, an individual’s potential exposure to others who have tested positive and share facilities, density of congregate living environments, wastewater monitoring in the residence halls, multiple cases in a classroom, and activities with higher risk of close contact. 

Adam Salzwimmer, a Spanish major who lives off-campus, said that UA “could have done better with incentives.” 

“If I don’t want to go through the hassle of getting COVID testing, then get vaccinated,” he said. “That was essentially the only University produced incentive that I had. And most of my coworkers who are not vaccinated do not mind getting tested one bit.” 

Salzwimmer feels there’s another important question about the mandate. 

“Ultimately the question with the mandate is, will employees be let go if they don’t get vaccinated and will students not be able to attend classes if they are not vaccinated?” he said. 

University of Akron campus.
(Photo via Alyssa Alexsonshk)

Other students, like senior Sarah Young and freshman Elsie Stoller, share a different point of view on the new COVID-19 protocols at the university. 

Young, who lives off-campus said, “If I were going, I don’t think I would feel any safer. The vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get COVID or spread it to other people.” 

Young plans on graduating this fall but said if she were to continue going to college in the spring, she “may consider switching schools” due to the vaccine and mask mandate at UA. 

Stoller shares similar concerns about the updated protocols. 

“I am concerned that UA will lose a lot of its students if the mandate really goes through. My concern for getting COVID is nonexistent,” she said. “In fact, I am substantially more afraid of the mask and vaccine mandates than actually getting COVID,” Stoller said. 

With divided opinions on COVID-19 protocols, it is not hard to imagine how difficult it is for university officials to navigate a decision on how to keep the campus and its students safe. 

The university’s updated protocols will be initiated by the spring 2022 semester and hopefully provide a space where students feel safe returning to more in-person classes and on-campus opportunities.