CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – University of Charleston officials say they anticipate a return to full on-campus learning and social activities for the Fall 2021 semester.
According to the university’s Return to Campus plan, they will also be one of more than 500 campuses across the country that will require students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before they return to either the Charleston or Beckley campuses. Officials say if students are unable to get the vaccine before they return, free clinics are being planned for the beginning of the semester.
The plan states that students will be able to request a medical exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. Officials say students who are approved for an exemption will need to sign a liability waiver and will have some campus restrictions.
“We have two main campus goals at UC – ensuring the health and safety of all of our students, faculty, and staff, and enabling students to achieve their personal and professional goals,” said UC President Marty Roth. “Having a vaccinated community allows us to achieve both of these goals while providing students with the most open and least restricted campus environment possible. The Fall 2021 Return to Campus Plan exemplifies UC’s student-focused values and best enables us to achieve our mission.”
Denise Ruiz, an upcoming University of Charleston senior says she thinks it’s a good move. “I think everyone is just tired of wearing masks. But it will let everyone feel a little bit safer and just make things feel like its back to normal.”
And graduate student, Lena Kaster, says maneuvering through the school year last year was a challenge, especially as a new student on campus. “It was really hard for everyone last year, I just came in last year and didn’t know anyone on campus and with all of the restrictions it was very hard to get a social contact here.”
The Return to Campus plan also includes lifting mask mandates for vaccinated students and lessening social distancing rules. University officials say students, faculty and staff who are fully vaccinated will not have to wear face coverings on campus or participate in COVID-19 surveillance testing.
“Although we managed to find innovative methods of teaching classes with the health and safety procedures in place, it will be wonderful returning to a more normal, and yet enhanced, learning experience,” said Nicky Bell, Health Promotion Program Director and Assistant Professor at UC. “I know as a professor it is always so powerful to be able to interact with students both verbally and non-verbally, and we will be able to do both more consistently moving forward. I personally look forward to, and delight in, the opportunity to see my students’ smiles.”
They will also not need to quarantine if they come into contact with someone who has the virus unless they begin to show signs of symptoms, according to the university.
“For many of us, some of our best college experiences occurred outside of the classroom, so we’re excited to move toward a more normal campus experience this fall,” said Virginia Moore, Vice President and Dean of Students at UC. “With health and safety as a top priority, we’re looking forward to offering many of the in-person activities that our students traditionally enjoy and missed last year, like Homecoming and Family Weekend, while still offering virtual experiences to maximize relationship-building opportunities.”
Ruiz adds she’s just looking forward to a normal year. “I’m ready to just be able to go to practice and not having to wear a mask going to class, seeing people smile and laugh, and just being able to see everyone’s faces so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”