Prior to the beginning of spring semester, a petition calling for increased COVID-19 precautions in light of the spread of the highly-virulent omicron variant began circulating, ultimately gathering 215 signatures. The College adopted remote learning and nixed indoor dining for the first week of classes while students underwent two rounds of intake testing. Thereafter, Vassar returned to indoor dining and in-person classes.
The Miscellany News sought to investigate whether these decisions were popular, and whether the petition accurately represented the views of the student body as a whole. In an effort to do so, we retrieved a voluntary sample using our Instagram account and flyers with QR codes that we left in Gordon Commons and the Retreat. 103 students responded over a period of 12 days spanning from Feb. 2 to Feb. 14. In order to ensure our sample accurately represented the student body, we asked respondents to report their sex at birth and racial identity. These were the only demographic statistics that were publicly available as a point of comparison. US News provides statistics for Vassar students’ sex at birth, with the most recent numbers indicating that the ratio of male to female students was 38 to 62 as of Fall 2020. For the 95 students who provided an answer in the traditional binary, 39 percent were male and 61 were female. Vassar provides statistics on racial diversity for each first-year class; 38 percent of students in the class of 2025 reported identifying as a person of color. For the 99 students who provided their racial identity, 69 percent identified as exclusively white. In addition, responses were split fairly evenly among class years, with 28.15 percent of respondents seniors, 21.4 percent juniors, 22.3 percent sophomores and 28.15 percent first years.
Just short of a majority (47 percent) of students indicated that Vassar should follow a mandatory testing program. Another 19 percent indicated that testing should be optional, but more widely available. Rapid testing continues to be available at the Aula Wednesday and Friday from 1 to 4:30 p.m., and the College recently installed a vending machine in the College Center for at-home rapid tests on Feb. 11. Students can purchase one $1 test every two days. PCR testing is also available at Baldwin as needed.
A slim majority of students (52 percent) indicated that classes should remain fully in-person and students should be required to live on (or at least near) campus. Those who favored a remote option (48 percent) were split among requiring students to live on campus (12 percent of total) or not (36 percent).
81 percent of students indicated that masking should be required indoors. Those students were split among those preferring masking outdoors as well (three percent of total), those preferring strict enforcement of indoor mandates (32 percent) and those preferring lenient indoor mandates (46 percent).
Just one student indicated a preference for no indoor dining. The remaining students were split among indoor dining with no restrictions (52 percent of total) and indoor dining with strict capacity limits and accessible grab-n-go options (48 percent).
24 percent of students indicated a preference for unrestricted unmasked gatherings. The remaining 76 percent were split among whether unmasked gatherings should be limited (44 percent of total) or disallowed (32 percent).
In a multiple regression controlling for gender, major and race, upperclassmen were significantly (p < 0.05) more likely to approve of Vassar’s current testing policy. Specifically, on a scale of approval from 1-5, graduating one year sooner portended a 0.29-point increase in score on average. This could be due to burnout from mandatory testing last year. In the subset used for the regression, only 11 percent of first-years indicated that Vassar should adhere to their current testing policy, while 72 percent voiced support for mandatory testing. For sophomores, those numbers were 27 and 45; for juniors, 50 and 20; and for seniors, 21 and 57.
In a multiple regression controlling for major, class year and race, male-identifying students were significantly (p < 0.05) less likely to approve of Vassar’s current masking policy. On a scale of approval from 1-5, identifying as male portended a 0.59-point decrease in score on average. 47 percent of male-identifying students indicated that masking should not be required anywhere. On the other hand, only eight percent of non-male students indicated that masking should not be required anywhere.
A complicating factor could be that some students responded to the survey after a surge in COVID-19 cases on campus. When splitting the data into groups before and after President Elizabeth Bradley’s Feb. 11 email announcing the spike, the difference in mean approval ratings of Vassar’s testing policy was significant (p < 0.01), with those responding after the announcement significantly less likely to approve. However, differences in mean approval ratings for all other policies were insignificant, and the difference in mean composite scores of the approval ratings on all of Vassar’s COVID-19 policies was insignificant (p = 0.23).
Overall, these results paint a complex picture of Vassar students’ attitudes on COVID-19 restrictions. Not too long ago, it seemed that the student body was united in their approval of tight restrictions. But as we approach year three of the pandemic, fatigue appears to be setting in; the majority no longer wants remote options, limited indoor dining or mandatory testing. A significant portion is even tiring of masks in any capacity. One student, ’24, said “No restrictions! I miss college,” while another, ’22, noted “I don’t like how Vassar has decided that the pandemic is basically over.” These quotes further demonstrate that the challenge for the College going forward will be in navigating these diverging opinions.