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Climate advisory - Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

 Jan. 25, 2021

by Virginia Palencia, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success


Climate Advisory #CA-2021-1 is based on Climatext data collected on Jan. 25 from a representative sample of VCU students. VCU students responded to the prompt "How do you feel about the promise of the Covid-19 vaccine to support a return to campus in the coming months?" A total of 349 students, or 40.5% of the total sampling population, responded with a 24-hour period.

Student sentiment scores can range from -1.00 (negative) to +1.00 (positive). Actual sentiment scores are presented in the summary of the findings. VCU senior administrators, deans and chairs are asked to consider the university affordances provided to students, especially on-campus residents, during this period of time.

In regard to the vaccine supporting campus return, many VCU students expressed hopefulness or relief at the possibility of a vaccine; however, this positive sentiment (.332) was tempered by concerns regarding the logistics of a safe transition back to campus. While some students indicated a strong desire to "return to normal" and gratitude for the vaccine, others expressed concern that returning to campus in the coming months may be unrealistic. These students cautioned against returning too rapidly, wanting to ensure that everyone was vaccinated or that VCU was doing enough to protect the campus and community at large.

In addition, some students expressed doubt and anxiety about vaccine efficacy and safety. Some worried that others students would not get the vaccine, or that the vaccine might not be effective against variants.

Overall, despite a mostly positive sentiment score, many student responses indicated mixed feelings of being hopeful, yet anxious. Such mixed responses reflect the overall ambivalence regarding vaccine distribution, efficacy, and negotiating a safe campus return. Finally, several students requested clarity. Such clarification may help assuage anxiety and fear regarding logistics and safety.

Student responses were characterized along five themes: excited and hopeful; tentatively optimistic; skeptical; anxious and pessimistic; as well as a need for guidance and transparency. Below, examples of each theme are provided.

I. Excited & Hopeful: A Strong Desire to Return to Normal

  • "I'm hopeful for the vaccine, so that we can slowly begin to return to normalcy, but I understand that it will have to be a cautious and gradual transition." (Female, 22,GDS)
  • "I think it is great that they are leading the focus. I have not heard of any other school doing what VCU is doing in the fight against Covid-19." (Male, 46, PSY)
  • "I am really excited at the idea of a vaccine bringing a return to normalcy. I think VCU should implement a robust vaccination program for its students and then the community - with a public dashboard indicating how many people have been vaccinated." (Male, 26, MED)
  • "I am excited about the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, and hope that a full return to campus will be in effect once it is deemed safe by multiple sources, and that precautions will continue." (Female, 18, THF)
  • "I feel good. More people should be vaccinated with a priority for residence students and health students. This needs to be addressed." (Female, 28, MED)
  • "I would be happy to get the vaccine so we can return to campus. I hope students will be able to get it soon, but I understand there are more vulnerable populations that need it first." (Female, 21, MAS)
  • "I'm hopeful, but I want to be sure that the vaccine goes to essential workers before students. I can learn from my dorm, but a cashier has to be there, so they should get it before I do." (Male, 20, BIO)

II. Tentatively Optimistic: Concerned about the return to campus

  • "Very relieved but also concern with how the university is going to distribute the vaccine." (Female, 20, NURB)
  • "I feel that while the vaccine does seem promising, the return to campus should wait until the later stages of dispersal and should be done carefully." (Male, 19, PHY)
  • "I want the COVID vaccine however I don't want them to open classes before most of the student population has been vaccinated." (Female, 22, RMH)
  • "I really believe that a promise to return to campus is an extremely rash decision and should not be rushed. I hate the zoom learning but an outbreak on campus would be way worse." (Male, 22, CLE)
  • "I would really like that to happen but I'm not sure even with the vaccine that we will be back to campus with in person classes. Even with masks." (Female, 20, MCE)
  • "I feel more comfortable attending school virtually until I can be assured that the vast majority or students, staff and faculty are vaccinated. I don't realistically see that happening in the coming months." (Female, 28 COE)

III. Skeptical: Concerns about vaccine efficacy

  • "It's comforting, but also not because the vaccine does not promise prevention of the virus nor prevention of transmission of the virus." (Male, 19, SLW)
  • "You can still transmit the virus even if you have the vaccine. For those of us that live at home, it puts our family members at risk. So not great." (Male, 27, MNE)
  • "I'm concerned that the vaccine won't be effective against new strains of the virus, causing a slow down in the return to normal life." (Female, 32, ACC)
  • "I don't fully trust the vaccine at this time, but until it works 100% of the time I won't be coming back." (Male, 20, MKT)
  • "I'm anxious about the COVID vaccine, and I don't want to be forced to take it in order to return to campus." (Female, 45, MUS)

IV. Anxious & Pessimistic: Feeling Unsafe

  • "I'm all for the vaccine, but I'm worried students will get the first round and think they’re cured and think it’s ok to go out and about again." (Female, 22, BIO)
  • "I'd rather not return to campus at all during these times because I don't trust the campus to keep the vast amount of students and employees completely safe." (Female, 22, MAC)
  • "The vaccine rollout is way too chaotic and slow to be able to guarantee any sort of safety in the coming year, let alone the coming months. I would absolutely not feel comfortable returning to campus." (Female, 28, PSY)
  • "I think it's irresponsible to allow students fully back on campus even with the vaccine. Because what about the rest of the city?" (Female, 19, POS)
  • "I think I would still want to stay home -- I hear of new variants of the virus all the time... I think it's a good thing for essential workers though, but I'm afraid that some people will start to get careless once they get vaccinated." (Female, 19, COM)
  • "It's nice for people to have the option but everyone's not going to get that vaccine." (Female, 23, PSY)

V. A need for guidance and transparency

  • "I hope we can all be vaccinated soon, but I am not very confident in the process of getting students vaccinated because there is not much guidance on what is the next step." (Female, 21, BIO)
  • "I am skeptical we will be able to return to campus this semester, and am upset with the lack of information and transparency about when graduate students on the MCV campus will be allowed to get vaccinated." (Female, 25, NEU)
  • "I'd want to hear communication on exactly what the rollout plan would look like, what additional precautions will be in place, etc." (Female, 31, PRI)

Summary Recommendations: Transparency and Clarity

  • Provide clear guidance on vaccine clinics, and the steps towards getting students and employees vaccinated.
  • Clarify procedures and outline steps for a safe return to campus (vaccinations, social distancing, masks).
  • Consider implementing a dashboard indicating how many people have been vaccinated on campus.
  • Outline how VCU will support the community at large in regard to vaccines and safety.

About Climatext. VCU’s Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES) administers Climatext as part of the university’s proactive monitoring and response plan to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Climatext assesses student sentiment resulting from their information exposure and experiences related to COVID-19. Sentiment scores range from negative-to neutral (-1.00 to 0.00) and from neutral-to-positive (0.00 to +1.00). Climatext produces a real-time data summary for the general student population as well as student subpopulations. Data are collected and coded using proprietary software conceptualized and developed by Sam Yerkes, Jim Yucha, and Aashir Nasim. Results are used to inform the university’s strategic communications efforts and support services that address student needs.