Some universities in Virginia have dropped their requirement that faculty and staff members prove vaccination against COVID-19 ahead of the new semester.
George Mason University, James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University each now strongly encourage their state employees to get vaccinated and boosted against the virus.
The decisions follow new Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive action on his first day in office rescinding the vaccine mandate for state employees.
At George Mason University, an effort to lift a booster mandate for students is gaining steam. Law student Robert Fellner started an online petition to remove the requirement.
“I want for the students to be given that same freedom of choice that staff had,” Fellner said.
Students will have to show proof by mid-February that they received a booster shot or could face consequences. Fellner argued that amounts to coercion.
“When you’re 22, 21, starting out, you don’t want a black mark on your transcript, so the university has a lot of power to harm the students who choose not to do this, and I think this goes against their core values,” he said.
More than 700 people have signed the petition so far. Student Austin Farris said he chose not to sign.
“At the end of the day, it’s for everyone’s safety,” he said.
Fellner said he believes other Virginia universities will join his effort, sparking change or at least a conversation. He asked school administrators to respond by next Monday, at the start of the spring semester.
“George Mason University encourages student activism, and our students represent a broad range of perspectives," a university spokesman told News4. "We have students advocating for moving all courses online and we have students who want booster requirements lifted. We are respectful of all of these voices as we try and make the best decisions we can, for all.”