Some students at Meredith College have begun to express their discomfort with Meredith’s requirement that unvaccinated students be tested weekly for COVID-19. While 58.8% of Meredith students and 79.4% of faculty and staff are vaccinated as of this publishing, that leaves a significant minority of students and faculty/staff who remain unvaccinated. The weekly testing requirement was announced to students who had not submitted proof of vaccination to the College on Aug. 11, when an email was sent stating that these students may need to pay a $1,125 fee for 15 weeks of testing at $75 per test. However, a clarification email sent on Aug. 12 provided a link to the application for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) Grant for COVID Testing Expenses, which can cover the cost of testing for students. A second clarification email on Aug. 20 further explained that no student would have to pay the $1,125 fee as long as they submitted the previously mentioned form.
Following the initial email on Aug. 11 and prior to the clarification about cost, some unvaccinated students at Meredith began to publicize their effort to protest the weekly testing requirement, including by starting an online petition. In response to the negative feedback from some students, President Jo Allen sent an email on Aug. 13 explaining the College’s reasoning for requiring weekly tests for unvaccinated students. Dr. Allen wrote, “…as an educational institution of excellence, we believe in science. We follow guidance from the CDC, WHO, federal and state leaders in health policy, epidemiology, and other sectors of science and guidance. As a result, we know the vaccines are safe, with over 350 million doses having been administered with the most intensive safety surveillance tracking in history. The move to FDA full approval is on track, given the decades of research into SARS-2 and coronavirus variants and the success of the vaccines in data-rich research.”
Dr. Allen’s email also addressed why the testing requirement was not put in place for vaccinated students. While vaccinated individuals do still have the potential to contract COVID-19, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are more than 90% effective against the disease overall and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is more than 70% effective overall and 86% effective against severe disease. Dr. Allen said, “...we know from research that those risks of infection [for vaccinated people] are still small enough that ubiquitous testing is not advised, although at some point it may be. That said, anyone exhibiting any signs of the virus — whether vaccinated or not — should be tested immediately and quarantine until results of the testing are available.”
Students Taryn McKenrick and Lauren Scholz, both in the Class of 2022, have been at the forefront of the protest against the testing policy and provided The Herald with a statement about their efforts. They stated, "Meredith College preaches to us about inclusion and showing equality towards students and staff throughout our Meredith community. The policies set in place by Meredith College do not represent these values. How can you preach to us to be ourselves and stay true to ourselves, and then force us to do something that goes against what we feel is best for us? Forcing students to take mandatory testing at a high dollar price is unjust and unfair. They are twisting our arm and are pushing us into this with hopes we will take the vaccine to get out of this payment." At the time of their statement, Meredith College had not yet clarified that no student who filled out the grant form would have to pay for the weekly testing.
In an article published by WRAL, Vice President Jean Jackson stated that “[Meredith is] a private college and we expect each student to be responsible for whatever fees are associated with her attendance…We have many students who live on campus and so we want to contain the spread.” For more information about Meredith’s Community Standards, visit the Staying Strong website.
By Olivia Slack and Elinor Shelp-Peck, Co-Editors in Chief