What do Christian Brothers University, Maryville College, Rhodes College, University of the South and Vanderbilt University have in common? They are all Tennessee universities that are requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to be on campus.

As we all know, the University of Tennessee is not a part of this list. The state of Tennessee has received around 8.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and has administered approximately 7 million doses, resulting in 80% of the doses being used. It has recently been reported that 53.12% of the state have received at least one dose, while 46.01% are fully vaccinated.

As for the University of Tennessee, they are constantly offering vaccination appointments, as they have given out 13,705 doses. While this number may seem high at first glance UTK has approximately 30,599 undergraduate and graduate students. Now obviously this doesn’t include students who have received their vaccination outside of the university like me. As of right now the best way to get our campus back to a sense of normalcy is for the university to require students, faculty and administration to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

If the University of Tennessee did make the move to require all individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, then we would be one step closer to normalcy. As we all know, the normalcy of today is different from the normalcy we once knew, but fully face-to-face courses are something we can hold onto.

As a sophomore, I finished my freshman year only experiencing two face-to-face college courses. I was only able to build a relationship with two college professors. I only interacted with approximately 50 of my peers as a result of only having two courses. I have only been in two educational buildings on campus. However, I was lucky to be able to experience two in-person courses, as I know most of my peers experienced last year fully online. If everyone on campus were vaccinated, there would be virtually no need to continue with online courses.

As COVID-19 has taken over our lives in more ways than one, possibly the most impactful was our social life. As isolation was a necessity for our safety, we lost out on 19 months of seeing our family, friends, coworkers and peers. This isolation affected everyone differently, but the most common theme is mental health problems. As college students, we thrive off of interaction with one another through group projects, study groups or even just helping each other out in class. UTK requiring the COVID-19 vaccine would alleviate the issue.

Social interaction is vital in these years for growth and development, and the track we are on right now is not supporting that mission. Vaccination requirements bring us one step closer to being able to connect with one another.

As we all know, the University of Tennessee is a state-funded university, meaning we rely on government funding. As of April 22, 2021, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed House Bill 13. This bill essentially states that a “government entity” shall not be permitted to require individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Tennessee lawmakers find that this is a “personal choice” and should not be forced on anyone. Due to this, if UTK pushed a vaccine requirement we would lose state funding. What we must ask is: What is more important, money or safety?

COVID-19 has stripped us of so much more than anyone ever anticipated. It has been an exhausting, relentless and emotional 19 months and it is time for us to be able to start feeling normal again. We now have the ability to get back to what college once was.

I’m tired of paying thousands of dollars in tuition to learn alone in my room. I am exhausted of not being able to do my group projects in person. I am so over the fact that these are supposed to be my glory days, and it feels like college hasn’t even started yet. I have so much hope that the COVID-19 vaccine will bring us a sense of peace, and I have even more hope that the University of Tennessee will make that step in the right direction. We have a solution right in front of us — an FDA-approved solution.

Addyson Cain is a sophomore this year at UT studying supply chain management. She can be reached at acain15@vols.utk.edu.

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