By Leah Mize
In March we marked one year since we went into our first lockdown, which was complete with whipped coffee, Tiger King viewings, and a full transition to Zoom. Now, we are partially normal in that we are back on campus, a luxury other college students across the country don’t all have.
However, it’s hard to feel like things are back to normal with everyone wearing masks, trying to remain six feet apart, and barred from participating in normal campus life activities that took place pre-pandemic. With multiple vaccines on the market, the end of the pandemic is near but a sense of normalcy doesn’t always have the same, succinct timeline.
We know that, once again, The University of Tampa’s official graduation ceremony this May will be online as it was for last semester’s graduates as well as last year’s graduates. Health concerns about hosting a large gathering, even with social distancing and masks, were cited as reasons for deciding against an in-person ceremony.
This decision has generated mixed reactions from students. While health concerns are valid, it’s hard to see other, larger schools have their own COVID-altered versions of graduation ceremonies and wonder why UT can’t come up with something comparable. Regardless, the looming question of next Fall lies ahead.
According to a global email sent out on Monday, March 22 from President Vaughn, the school is planning to be completely in-person for the Fall 2021 semester. This means the era of hybrid classes would come to an end for Spartans although the statement leaves the door open for a continuation of Zoom classes if health conditions worsen. Additionally the email says that vulnerable UT students, staff, and faculty will not have the health accommodations they have gotten over the past year because they are eligible for vaccination.
Other notable details provided by the global email include a potential removal of the physical distancing policy for university sanctioned events as well as the restrictions placed on students living in residence halls. Mask-wearing will likely continue as well as enhanced cleaning procedures and diligent hand-washing.
It is currently unknown if the school plans to require students, especially incoming freshmen and those living on-campus, to be vaccinated before the Fall semester. There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines on the market and increasing opportunities for students to receive them. This may lead to the majority of next year’s student population already surpassing a requirement that has yet to be leveled, if it will be at all.
Technically, students are required to be vaccinated against diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, and hepatitis coming to UT, especially if they are going to be residing in the residence halls. The only difference is that these vaccinations are administered way before a student even makes their college decision as the first doses of MMR and Heps A, B, and C are given when children are infants.
Booster doses are administered throughout childhood to maintain the effectiveness of the antibodies, and as a result, most college-aged individuals have proven immunity against these preventable diseases. We all submit proof of vaccinations and immunity to the health center before arriving on campus. If a COVID-19 vaccination is required, this is likely how it may be dealt with, at least administratively.
The biggest indicator of normalcy will likely be an in-person graduation for December 2021. If the school can officially endorse and host an in-person graduation ceremony, even if there are masks and physical distancing as well as reduced attendance, it will be a huge sign that this nightmare may be closer to over than we even know.