Utica University no longer mandates COVID-19 Vaccination


Alexandria Leland

A student raises their hand in the middle of a Fall 2021 class when masks were required.

Mickale Thompson, Features Editor

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Utica University has been monitoring and taking measures to protect students, faculty and staff while also keeping a close watch on the Utica community at large.

The past years at Utica have been an adjusting period mentally, socially and academically for many. There were several measures put in place to ensure the safety of students and faculty while allowing students to continue their education during an unprecedented time. The institution has been gradually returning to life reminiscent of pre-COVID and this semester provides a step towards that with the decision to not require the vaccine. 

There has been much data and information that indicates the benefits of vaccinations. According to a Tangerine article from 2021, Utica had a 94% vaccination rate among students, 95% for residential students, 85% for new community members and 98% for faculty and staff. Well over 90% of the entire campus community was vaccinated at the end of last semester. 

Shad Crowe, the vice president of facilities and emergency management, said that the sheer volume of information that has been published and is readily available helped formulate this decision.

“Like all vaccines, we recognized that the COVID-19 vaccine is not built and never was built to prevent you or any one from getting the virus,” Crowe said. “The purpose of a vaccine is to keep a person from becoming severely ill if you contract a virus. Protecting the community has always been the greatest priority and that is still the primary focus. We want the community to be safe. It really is a matter of whether you decide to protect yourself. It’s kind of like putting on a coat of armor.”

There have been many conversations surrounding the vaccine. Removing emotions from the conversation and focusing on the information and data puts the decision making back on individuals, according to Crowe.

“The current variants and data gathered provides that a vaccinated person and an unvaccinated person carry the same amount of viral mode; they both are equally contagious,” Crowe said. “The difference is [that] a vaccinated person is far less likely to experience significant symptoms. What we believe is the right approach is, rather than lose the opportunity to have a student come here that hasn’t been vaccinated, we have at least an opportunity to provide the information and data so they can make a decision for themselves.  If they choose not to get vaccinated we have at least provided them with an opportunity to understand the data.”

Utica will still be providing vaccination and booster clinics to ensure that the community has the resources they need to be safe and healthy.  

“What we want to do is continue to offer the vaccine and booster on campus and encourage people to read the data and understand what the vaccine does,” Crowe said. “ We really want people to be healthy and safe and the only way to do that is to provide them with the information and educate everyone on the benefits of the vaccine.” 

The decision to no longer mandate vaccination began with meetings from the President’s Cabinet and Joint Cabinet, which includes both faculty and staff.

Students think this will benefit the community because high vaccination rates make campus members more comfortable. It also allows the campus community to make their own decisions regarding vaccination status.

“To me, the benefits are that it puts the minds of people at ease and allows everyone to have an opportunity to go to college,” graduate student Ryan Kulawy said. “Utica always puts health and safety first, having the backs of anyone no matter what they believe.”

According to Kulawy, it is extremely important that everyone has all the information necessary to make an informed decision. No matter what you believe it is important to respect others and hear what they have to see. Our school is better when we listen to each other.

Other students believe the community at large did a good job. 

“I think the Utica community did a pretty good job of handling the highs and lows of the pandemic,” senior physics major DJ Harter said. “There were definitely some moments where I would be at a heavily populated place and think “man what if one of these people is carrying COVID. But I think those fears came everywhere in the U.S., not just Utica.”

Utica still encourages people to wear a mask if they feel they need to and for others to show kindness and respect this decision. However, following a period of infection, Utica requires everyone to mask for an additional five days following isolation per CDC and NYSDOH guidance.

“I would say that this University and the community in it overcame some treacherous terrain and climbed a mountain throughout the pandemic,” Crowe said. “We navigated around some enormous obstacles when some others did not.  I think we, everyone in the community, have created an environment here where people do feel safe and feel that they can be safe while pursuing their goals and dreams. We have safeguards and contingencies in place allowing us to quickly make changes if we need to. As difficult as it was, the Pioneer family did some amazing things over the past 2 and a half years, pulling together to keep one another healthy and safe. I couldn’t be more proud to be a small part of this great Pioneer family.”