Faculty who have received the COVID-19 vaccine say they feel safer about teaching in person this fall as vaccinations continue to expand across the country.
Seven vaccinated faculty members said they feel optimistic and comfortable returning to campus next semester for in-person instruction and to restore the traditional campus experience for students. More than 200 faculty opted out of teaching in person last fall due to concerns of contracting the virus, but vaccinated faculty said they now encourage students and the rest of the GW community to get the vaccine at the earliest opportunity to be protected from the virus and for normal campus life to return.
Officials have not yet announced whether they will require students to be vaccinated as part of fall reopening plans, but other D.C.-area schools like Georgetown and American universities did. Lynn Goldman, the dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, signaled her support for the requirement at a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month, saying a requirement would help GW manage classrooms to align with public health guidelines.
“My professional opinion is that we should move in that direction,” Goldman said. “That’s certainly for the students, that it can make an enormous difference in their health and well-being as well as their ability to have more normal social experiences as college students.”
Administrators have consistently stated that students will be on campus “to the fullest extent possible” this fall but have not yet definitively announced the status of the fall semester.
Melani McAlister, a professor of American studies, said she received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine in February as part of Maryland’s 1C vaccine rollout stage, which includes employees in higher education. She said getting vaccinated made her more energetic and gave her hope that she will be able to teach in person this fall.
“For me, my students have been quite brave and we’ve all done our best, but I have no worries about going back, and I can’t wait to come back,” she said.
McAlister said the pandemic has caused her students to become more burnt out and exhausted than normal at this point of the semester compared to the fall and believes they are ready to return to a social life beyond their childhood bedrooms.
“Even though we’re so close to the end, I see more people sort of hitting a wall of just mental health exhaustion, and my students definitely seem to be struggling more this semester than they did last semester with just enough of this, even though we’re so close to being in a better place,” she said.
Steven Roberts, a professor of media and public affairs and a member of The Hatchet’s Board of Directors, said he received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine in Maryland in February and experienced no major side effects. Roberts said he is “eager” to return to campus next fall because students have been physically and emotionally disconnected from the campus and wider University community.
He said students and faculty will be safe to return to in-person instruction as more vaccines are distributed.
“It’s the right decision to move back toward a campus-based learning environment, because I think the costs of doing what we’ve been doing so far, while reasonable, are also huge and we’ve got to take that into account,” he said.
Roberts said he restarted his networking tradition at Founding Farmers two weeks ago of catching up with former students over breakfast with more people getting vaccinated. He said meetups like this on campus serve as a “lively” and “critical” component of students’ college experiences that have been lost during the pandemic.
“I’ve been very hopeful that the vaccine would enable us to have an in-person experience next fall, and I’ve been encouraged with the fact that so many people now have access to the vaccine – both the faculty and increasingly the students themselves,” he said.
Everyone above the age of 16 became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine last week in the District, including out-of-state students currently residing in D.C.
Colin Linsley, a teaching professor of accountancy, said he received his first shot of the Moderna vaccine about three weeks ago in Florida, where he is currently teaching online, with his second shot scheduled for this week. He said he experienced side effects from the vaccine for only a day, reminding him of when he contracted the virus in February and fell ill for nearly two weeks.
He said he will feel safe from the virus after his second shot, and he is impressed with the vaccine’s high level of protection against severe infections. He said he hopes the pandemic will be completely under control and life will return to normal by next year as more states continue to expand their vaccine rollout.
“I was very concerned a year ago with no vaccine,” he said. “Now, it seems like it’s hard to imagine that there’s any real danger.”
Diane Cline, a professor of history, said she received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine in March at a local CVS Pharmacy in Maryland with no major side effects. She said she and her daughter ate their first meal at a restaurant together a few weekends ago since the pandemic’s initial outbreak last year.
Cline said she would be comfortable teaching in person this fall because catching the virus is no longer “life-threatening” after being vaccinated. She said she understands if some students and faculty are worried about fully returning next semester because not everyone will know who has been vaccinated since limiting community spread can be more difficult at a city school like GW.
“As a community, the atmosphere at GW could be awkward and make people anxious and nervous for a while until we get used to being in public again,” Cline said.
She said she only found a place to receive the vaccine six weeks after she became eligible and said the University should be involved in helping the GW community become inoculated since the GW Hospital is offering vaccines.
“They were very fast to share testing with us or anyone who came to campus, and I heard from my own doctor that he got the vaccine at GW Hospital – but we didn’t,” she said.
University President Thomas LeBlanc said at January’s Faculty Senate meeting that GW had not allocated vaccines for the University community because the GW Hospital has been following D.C. health guidelines in its vaccine distribution, which only expanded eligibility to students last week.
“Should GW be allocated vaccines in the future, we will mobilize our GW Occupational Health program run by the Medical Faculty Associates along with the Colonial Health Center to mount a distribution campaign,” LeBlanc said.