Election night could provide a quick White House winner, or a flood of mail-in ballots and social division could delay results for weeks
When students at Dordt University, a Christian liberal arts school in Iowa, read the school’s COVID-19 behavior agreement this year, they found standard precautions: mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing. But the four-page document, which students must sign before returning to campus, included an unusual paragraph. By signing below, it said, students agreed Dordt could require them to get an influenza vaccine—and a COVID-19 vaccine when one became available.
The paragraph launched Dordt into a brewing debate about schools and COVID-19 vaccinations. Often, universities rely on national and state regulations to set their vaccine policies, but the potential benefit of an effective COVID-19 vaccine may tempt some to require it on their own. With such a vaccine likely months away, though, many schools remain focused on ensuring students get the flu shot.
A May poll from the Associated Press and the University of Chicago found about half of Americans said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine when one became available. Another 20 percent said they would not, mostly citing concerns about side effects. That month the American College Health Association advised college health centers to budget for providing COVID-19 vaccinations for students.
After fielding questions about its vaccine requirement, Dordt emailed students a clarification kicking the issue down the road. “At present,” the email said, “the best information we have is that an effective vaccine will most likely not be available until after the spring 2021 semester.” Dordt removed the mention of COVID-19 vaccines from its behavior agreement but left open the possibility of a mandatory flu shot.
Unlike Dordt, Cedarville University in Ohio specified it would not mandate any COVID-19 vaccine unless required by state or federal regulations. University representative Janice Supplee said the college’s reopening plan mentioned vaccines in case students already had questions, but it did not state a comprehensive policy decision: “We don’t have a vaccine yet, so it’s not really on our radar.”
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With a month of unknowns left before the start of college classes, a clear class divide has opened between the college “haves”—those institutions with deep pockets and an elite brand—and all the rest.
In short, the “haves” can afford to minimize COVID-19 risk by keeping classes online or going to a hybrid model. They have big endowments. Their diplomas confer status that students don’t want to give up. For the rest, whether Christian or secular, not fully opening will present risks that apparently outweigh COVID-19 concerns.
I compared the Top 25 institutions, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, with 25 Christian colleges and universities, including Wheaton and Cedarville, and 25 public and private colleges such as Stetson and the University of Tulsa that have an average enrollment similar to the Christian ones.
Most schools in the Top 25 plan on hybrid classes this fall. That means students can live on campus at schools like Cornell and Yale, but their class periods will alternate between in-person and online. This cuts attendance at each lecture in half, making social distancing easier. Six schools, including Princeton and Harvard, will hold almost all classes online. The only exception in the Top 25 is Notre Dame, which plans to hold all but a few large classes in person.
Outside the privileged few, the picture changes. Many small schools attract students with the promise of tight-knit campus community. If they undercut that promise by going online, students may transfer elsewhere, taking tuition dollars with them. Even if every student stays enrolled, opening online means missing out on room and board revenue. Few can afford the loss.
Of the 25 Christian schools, 23 plan to return with in-person classes and open dorms. The two exceptions, Seattle Pacific University and Houston Baptist University, plan to allow students in campus housing but will hold hybrid classes. The last group of 25, similar in size to the Christian schools, is a mix: Eight plan on hybrid classes, and 15 plan to reopen fully in person. None plans to be totally online.
While an elite few schools wait for the storm to pass, many of the rest hope masks, tests, and student rule-following—often a challenge—will be enough to stave off outbreaks.
—Esther Eaton is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a WORLD intern
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Numerous Christian schools sent buses full of students to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., last month. Which museum on or adjacent to the National Mall had about 700 students lined up to enter it at 10 a.m. the day before the March? Which had no line and would be a good one for school groups to visit next January, when many will be back for the 48th annual march? Which should schools avoid unless they want a massive dose of ever-changing but always trendy pseudoscience?
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where the student groups were lining up, is well worth a visit. The permanent exhibits show how the Nazis multiplied hatred step-by-step: Nuremberg Race Laws, Kristallnacht, ghettoization, killing fields, and gas chambers. The museum plays to eyes and ears: photos of Jewish deportation, oral testimonies from Auschwitz. And a few survived: The museum displays resistance and rescues, liberation of the camps, and video testimonies from those who lived.
School groups next year should also visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a quarter-mile from the Holocaust Museum. The history section notes not only the familiar uprisings like Nat Turner’s, but little-known ones like the Natchez Revolt of 1729 and the New York Conspiracy of 1741. It shows how slavery in the 17th and 18th centuries was a tragedy in the North as well as the South: “By 1664 New York City had more enslaved residents than any other city in North America. Forty-three percent of the city’s households depended upon enslaved domestic servants and laborers.”
One exhibit, “Thomas Jefferson and the Limits of Freedom,” shows the contradictions in the man who wrote in the Declaration of Independence of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but removed two-thirds of those basics from the 600-plus slaves he owned. Jefferson’s attitude was like that of the person lampooned by hymn-writer William Cowper: “I admit I am sickened at the purchase of slaves … but I must be mum, for how could we do without sugar or rum?”
Overall, the museum’s three floors of history steer clear of the propagandistic approach of The New York Times’ “1619 Project” and recognize the importance of Christianity. Harriet Tubman’s hymnal has with it this explanation: “A fiercely religious woman, Tubman spoke of visions and dreams that helped provide a moral compass throughout her life. The wear and tear on this hymnal suggests that she must have loved it and used it quite frequently.”
Other references to Christianity show how slave owners sometimes used parts of the Bible to intimidate their “property,” but slaves perceived the ennobling and comforting essence. Ex-slave Elizabeth Rose Hite recalled, “We had our own church in the brick yard way out in the field. We hid behind the bricks and had church every night.” Olaudah Equiano gained his freedom in 1766 and later offered this challenge: “O ye nominal Christians! Might not an African ask you—Learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you?”
SADLY, BECAUSE IT CONTAINS always-in-style dinosaur bones, the museum to skip is the National Museum of Natural History, two-fifths of a mile east of the African American museum. That’s because the NMNH is too fashionable, always trying to drum into impressionable heads both the basic evolutionary message and the crisis du jour.
I wrote five years ago about the museum’s hyper-Darwinism. “Welcome to the Mammal Family Reunion,” one exhibit banners. “Come meet your relatives,” including “One of Your Oldest Relatives: Morganucodon oehleri.” But the museum cheats by propagandizing for macroevolution from Morgan (who was 4 inches long) to humans while largely providing microevolution examples: “As Habitats Changed, So Did Giraffes.”
Of course over time giraffes with longer necks would have an advantage over short-necked ones. That’s not where the dispute lies: The argument is about who made giraffes.
But while the evolutionary sleight-of-hand continues, the particular crisis has changed. Five years ago the emphasis was on pollution. Now it’s on—no surprise—climate change. We’re told, “Climate Change Impacts Daily Lives. Imagine your whole country disappearing under the ocean because of rising sea levels.” NMNH goes beyond the evidence to assert that “current climate change is primarily caused by humans … by driving our cars, heating and cooling buildings, powering industrial plants, and even making concrete.”
We can now blame epidemics on climate change: “Ecological and climate changes caused by humans increase our exposure to infected animals. … When people change an environment, they interact with animals and their viruses in new ways. … It’s not too late to avoid disaster, but we are running out of time. … Never in the entire 200,000-year history of our species have we faced the prospect of such rapid climate change.”
And yet, an irony lurks here. In an exhibit on “Climate, Evolution, and Survival,” NMNH tells us: “During the period of human evolution, Earth’s climate fluctuated between moist and dry, warm and cool. The challenge of surviving during these times of change shaped the course of human evolution. … The characteristics that make us human evolved over 6 million years as our ancestors struggled to survive during times of dramatic climate change.” So could climate change, by forcing humans to become super-human, be a good thing?