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Climate advisory - Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

 April 27, 2021

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


Climate Advisory #CA-2021-2 is based on Climatext data collected on April 27 from a representative sample of VCU students. VCU students responded to the prompt "What are your thoughts about VCU requiring students to have the COVID-19 vaccine for the 2021-22 academic year?" A total of 307 students, or 36.2% of the total sampling population, responded within 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 these findings in university affordances provided to students, especially on-campus residents, during this period of time.

In regard to requiring vaccines for campus return, many VCU students expressed agreement with the requirement of vaccines; however, this positive sentiment (.328) was tempered by concerns regarding the availability of course modalities and resistance to required vaccination. While the majority of students indicated a strong belief that vaccines were necessary for campus safety, others expressed concern that a vaccine mandate would be an infringement on personal rights. A small minority expressed that the vaccine should be encouraged, but not required.

Some students suggested there should be a mandate in place, but wanted to ensure allowance for medical exceptions and equal access to the vaccine. Others suggested that the vaccine should only be required for students who are participating in in-person classes.

  • Gender. VCU women (.35) were more likely to have a positive sentiment score than men (.29).
  • Age. There were differences regarding age, with younger students reporting more positive sentiment. Students in their 20’s (.36) expressed more optimism than students in their 30’s (.19) or 40’s (.17).
  • Race/Ethnicity. Asian American students (.42) reported much more favorable sentiment than Hispanic (.36), Multi-racial (.35), Black (.32), and White students (.31).
  • Student Classification. Freshmen (.52) and juniors (.44) reported more favorable sentiment compared to seniors (.32) and sophomores (.29). Medical students (.552) were more likely than graduate students (.210) to have positive sentiments regarding mandatory vaccines.
  • Pell-Eligible & First Generation. Pell-eligible students (.28) were more likely to report negative sentiments than other students (.36). There were no discernable differences between first-generation students and non-first generation students (.35).
  • Residence Halls. Finally, students residing in residential halls (.37) reported higher positive sentiment than off-campus students (.32). Off-campus men (.29) had a lower sentiment score than women.

Overall, students expressed an overwhelmingly positive sentiment score, despite the misgivings and beliefs of a relative minority. Many student responses indicated positive feelings regarding vaccination, and a willingness to comply with CDC guidelines. Such responses reflect a strong desire to return to campus, and resume classes in person, as well as wanting to ensure a safe campus return. Ambivalence and resistance regarding vaccine requirements, as well as providing alternate course modalities are areas of consideration. Finally, several students expressed concern about potential backlash, if vaccines are required for campus return.

Student responses were characterized along five themes: complete agreement; resistance; keeping options open; a need for clarity; and concerns about backlash and barriers. Below, examples of each theme are provided.

I. Complete agreement

  • "I fully support this but only if vaccines are provided by the school to students completely free and easy to access." (Female, 22, junior, HIS)
  • "I think policies for COVID vaccines should follow existing guidelines for vaccines required to attend public schools and colleges." (Female, 38, graduate, PPA)
  • "VCU should absolutely require students to have the COVID-19 vaccine for the 2021-22 academic year. It is the only way that campus life will return back to normal." (Female, 20, sophomore, AFO)
  • "I think it's a good thing and an important step in keeping people safe." (Male, 40, graduate, ADL)
  • "VCU should require all students to be vaccinated and should provide vaccinations for all students." (Male, 20, senior, MAS)
  • "Other vaccines are required to attend college so this one shouldn’t be any different." (Male, 35, senior, PSY)
  • "Great idea! We must protect ourselves and each other!" (Female, 69, senior, ANT)
  • "I am definitely onboard with VCU requiring students to have the COVID-19 vaccine for the 2021-22 academic year. I would feel a lot safer knowing that individuals who are on campus have taken the vaccine." (Female, 19, sophomore, FOS)

II. Resistance

  • "It should NOT be required. It’s an experimental vaccine, so it should not be forced on people." (Female, 44, senior, SCI)
  • "I think forcing students to get a vaccine is stupid, those who do not want to get it would then be forced to and potentially discriminated against if they did not. It is no different than a flu vaccine, and it should be treated as such." (Male, 30, graduate, SOC)
  • "I think it shouldn't be required. Some people have already built up an immunity to covid. People shouldn't be required because we still don't know the side effects of the vaccine." (Male, 20, junior, MKT)
  • "You shouldn't require students to get the vaccine if they don't want to. They should have choice[s] in what goes into their body." (Male, 23, senior, MCE)
  • "I don't like the idea -- I believe until the vaccine has received standard FDA approval/licensure, rather than its current Emergency Use Authorization, it should not be made mandatory." (Female, 22, senior MAC)

III. Keeping options open

  • "I think it shouldn't be required but heavily recommended!" (Female, 24, Medical)
  • "VCU should make the vaccine available to all students, but not require it. Most will get it and it will still positively affect the spread, yet still leaves room for personal choice." (Female, 20, sophomore, THF)
  • "I think it should be required for in person classes. If someone chooses not to get the vaccine, they can just take online classes." (Female, 21, senior, BME)
  • "I think it should be required for anyone living on campus or having in person classes. If students are taking all online it doesn't have to be mandatory." (Female, 22, senior, CSC)
  • "I feel as if students should have the option to decide what they want to do, if they are studying in person they must be vaccinated tho[ough]." (Male, 21, junior, ISY)
  • "I think it's extremely good and beneficial for us to go back to normal life. I do think there should be more options for those who choose not to receive the vaccine in terms of classes and remote-options." (Female, 20, sophomore, SOC)

IV. A need for clarity

  • "Absolutely we SHOULD be disclosing. This is a public health concern! As an MCV grad student, I have to disclose my TB vaccine status and my flu status. I'm sick of this being politicized. This is our community health. Please require disclosure on this!" (Female, 44, graduate, OCT)
  • "I am for it, with some stronger education and awareness for communities of color that may have mistrust." (Male, 29, graduate, LSH)
  • "I didn't know it was required, I want to know what happens if people don't get it are they able to continue with online learning like how will that work if classes are integrating back in person these next upcoming semesters?" (Female, 20).

V. Concerns about backlash and barrier

  • "I am absolutely fine with requiring the COVID-19 vaccine, but I imagine there will be backlash from others about it." (Female, 25, graduate, NEU)
  • "I wonder about folks who have trauma (whether historical, generational, or personal) that would make it especially challenging them to get the vaccine." (Female, 23, graduate, SLW)
  • "I approve of this, but also wonder if it will cause unfair barriers." (Female, 47, graduate, LSH).

Summary Recommendations

  • Outline VCU’s requirements for the vaccine, and provide clarity and guidance for those who may be exempted.
  • Provide clear guidance on vaccine clinics and access, and the steps towards getting students and employees vaccinated.
  • Clarify procedures and outline steps for a safe return to campus (vaccinations, social distancing, masks).
  • Communicate how VCU will continue to support the community at large in regard to access to vaccines.
  • Consider alternatives (providing distance education) for students who cannot receive the vaccine.

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.