British Columbia

UBC's support for masks, vaccinations doesn't go far enough, student society says

Protective measures should be required during the return to in-person classes, says student union VP

Protective measures should be required for return to in-person classes, says student union VP

A student is pictured on the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus. The school's student society says a letter from the university president doesn't go far enough when it comes to requiring masks and vaccinations in the fall term. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The University of B.C. should require mandatory vaccinations and indoor masking rather than merely support the measures that prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to the vice-president of the school's student society.

UBC President Santa Ono said in a letter on Thursday that the university was in contact with the province regarding indoor masking and vaccinations, and that he was "supportive" of the two public health measures.

They were some of the main measures that the Alma Mater Society, UBC's student union, had been pushing for as students prepare to return to campus on Sept. 7.

Eshana Bhangu, VP of academic affairs at the AMS, says the letter was one step short of actually putting those public health interventions in place ahead of campuses reopening.

"We're looking for something more than just an affirmation. We're looking for the actual mask and vaccine mandates at UBC," she said.

"Jurisdiction-wise, the university does have the independence [to institute the mandates]. I believe all post-secondary institutions do have the independence to make these calls themselves."

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that universities were working with the province on this issue following discussions about whether schools have autonomy to make their own policies.

International students are concerned about entering Canada and following COVID-19 protocols, says UBC's students union. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We will have more to say about [return to campuses] next week," she said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The calls for the two policies come after universities in Ontario and Saskatchewan made vaccines mandatory ahead of their fall terms.

About-face from university after months of advocacy

Ono's letter marks a significant turn for UBC, after months of statements saying the school would be following provincial guidelines that did not require masks or vaccinations to start the school year.

"[The letter] was quite a big step from where we were just a few days ago," Bhangu said.

Ono's letter says the university would look to mandate vaccinations in "high-density residences and high contact circumstances" within the university.

While varsity athletics and theatre are the two examples of "high contact" spaces in Ono's letter, there was no indication that classrooms would be included under the policy.

Some students are lobbying for mandatory vaccinations for everyone living in student housing. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"Students just don't want to be sitting in a 300- to 400-people lecture hall side-by-side without masks. So that's definitely a high risk area," Bhangu said.

Bhangu also said that international students were concerned about getting to campus on time, as travel bans and quarantine requirements threaten to jeopardize their plans for in-person learning.

When asked for clarification, a UBC spokesperson said they did not have further comment beyond Ono's letter.

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