Many colleges and universities begin fall classes next week. The big question on students’ minds is what the semester will look like as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Numerous universities across the country have instituted vaccine mandates for students returning to campus. The list of schools doing so in California is a thick paragraph, while the list for New York is even longer, spanning several paragraphs. But notably, only four Texas schools will be requiring the shot as of August 10.
“Baylor University” is one name that is not on that list.
As early as April, Baylor stated it would “not require a COVID-19 vaccination for students, faculty and staff for the fall semester,” even though Baylor’s medical team “strongly encourage[d] everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible.” And even as major universities across the country began rolling out vaccine requirements, Baylor has firmly maintained that position.
While it is unsurprising that small colleges like Patrick Henry College — which has about 350 students and is pretty uniformly religious and conservative — might not require the vaccine, Baylor is larger (with over 19,000 students) and more ideologically diverse.
Catherine, a senior International Studies major at Baylor University, told The American Spectator that sentiments at the University as classes prepare to start Monday are mixed. “I know that a lot of people have many different feelings about it on campus,” she said. “I’ve heard that some people are confused why we can require other vaccines like meningitis but not COVID. Others feel that those two situations are not comparable since there is uncertainty about the emergency authorization of the vaccine and everything that comes with that.”
Baylor had originally planned to have a normal in-person fall semester without significant masking or distancing requirements. But as the Delta variant spread across the country and Texas COVID cases and hospitalizations spiked in August, concerns spread over how to safely continue planning for in-person classes.
Baylor President Linda Livingstone sent updated protocols in an email to faculty, students, and parents August 13 that require masking during classes, in indoor locations “where appropriate social distancing may not be possible,” and in staff offices if they request it. Unvaccinated students will be required to get tested twice per week through at least the first four weeks of the semester.
But students are still free to return to campus without the shot, a freedom that students at Yale, UCLA, and Southwest Christian University — to name just a few — do not have.
Livingstone’s rhetoric surrounding the issue has highlighted the importance of allowing individuals to make their own medical decisions, while also appealing to Baylor’s distinctly Christian mission to encourage people to prioritize the health of the community as a whole.
“We recognize that everything is a choice — wearing a mask, getting vaccinated and social distancing — but we also know there are members of our campus community who, under their physician’s recommendation, cannot receive the vaccine or are otherwise vulnerable,” she wrote in May. “As we care for our own health and well-being, let us also extend grace to one another.”
As of August 19, 61.5 percent of Baylor’s campus was vaccinated, with a 58.3 percent vaccination rate for students and a 77.5 percent rate for faculty.
Baylor Senior Star Huang told The American Spectator that she thinks students should have the freedom to decide what is best for their health. “I think Baylor should respect students’ individual liberty,” she said. “Although Baylor is a private institution, as a college, it should encourage diversity and different opinions instead of enforcing strict uniformity.”