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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Out-of-state students should not be out of mind

Confusion, shock and anger rippled through the Middlebury community yesterday when Gov. Phil Scott announced that out-of-state college students in Vermont are ineligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. The announcement was a surprise to many as it conflicted with information shared by the college, and it left many who have recently signed up for vaccine appointments under the state’s recent expansion of eligibility to people of color wondering how to proceed. 

We, too, were taken aback, and we stand in staunch opposition to this short-sighted, illogical and dangerous restriction. The most prudent policy for the health and safety of our community is to vaccinate everyone in it — including students who claim residency in another state. 

Gov. Scott said during the press conference that the state must “take care of Vermonters first.” But who are Vermonters? Does this category not include the students who pay taxes in Vermont, vote in Vermont and are counted as Vermont residents in the census? And were these students not included as Vermont residents in the American Community Survey, which was used to determine state vaccine allocations?

Scott’s rhetoric of “Vermonters first” is both disconcerting and disappointing. It feels especially hypocritical given Scott’s desire for young people who come to Vermont — for college or otherwise — to build a life here. This nativist, protectionist approach estranges students who spend nine months or more out of the year living and working in Vermont. But more importantly, it denies them important access to the most effective protection against Covid. Under this new rule, all out-of-state students are ineligible in Vermont — even those with high-risk health conditions. 

While this affects individual students, it has much larger ripple effects into the wider Middlebury community that we call home. The longer students remain unvaccinated, the higher likelihood that there could be an outbreak on campus and students, where staff and faculty alike will be placed at risk, especially college employees who work in person. Moreover, an outbreak could endanger the local Middlebury community, placing an undue burden on those who have no choice but to interact with students.

While the college has allowed some students to return to their home states to receive vaccines, this policy privileges those with cars who live on the East Coast, and leaves many other out-of-state students without the vaccine, until at least the end of the spring semester. For some, the outlook is even bleaker, especially for students from countries that don’t have access to the vaccine yet, and others who may have to jump through more hoops to get appointments. 

Vermont is one of the only states so far to have instituted such a rule. This means that many Vermont residents studying at colleges and universities in other states will be vaccinated with those states’ allocated doses. The majority of states that Middlebury students hail from will be vaccinating Vermont residents at their colleges and universities, yet Vermont is refusing to do the same.

 Only students with a 14 Old Chapel Road address are impacted by this guideline — the many students studying remotely this semester will be eligible for a vaccine in their home state. What’s more, students studying off campus who are located in Middlebury or other areas in Vermont will be able to access the vaccine. Scott’s rule is arbitrary — ‘residency’ isn’t the logical metric by which to assess and protect a community. The point should be to protect the people who are here — and right now, students are here. In fact, most of us can’t leave.

Today, Governor Phil Scott sent a message loud and clear to Middlebury students: no matter how much you buy into your life in Vermont, contribute to your community, support local businesses, work to preserve the health and wellness of your fellow Vermonters or call the state your home, Vermont won’t claim you as one of its own. 

This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.