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Q&A: Bradley University President Stephen Standifird On Masking, Vaccines As Campus Prepares For Another Semester Coexisting With COVID

Tim Shelley

Students and faculty will coexist with COVID-19 once again for the upcoming semester at Bradley University.

But some things are drastically different from last fall. The COVID-19 vaccine is now widely available — but sluggish vaccination rates, combined with the proliferation of the highly infectious Delta variant — have changed the face of the war against the coronavirus.

Tim Shelley recently spoke with Bradley University President Stephen Standifird about the school'sr plans for this fall.

TIM SHELLEY: To some extent, it's got to feel like you're kind of starting your first year over again, right? Because last year was so untraditional.

STEPHEN STANDIFIRD: Boy, it's so funny you mentioned that. The term that our VP of advancement and I have come up with is that this in many ways is my second first year. And so I get excited about that I'm actually getting out an opportunity to meet people to really get to meet people face to face. There's a bunch of individuals on campus, that obviously, I've met many of them virtually but have not actually physically met them. And so really looking forward to being able to do that this year. I think it's gonna be a big change and also just getting out into the community and getting to know the city in the area in the region does something we get really excited about.

TIM SHELLEY: And with COVID. I know it's still here, unfortunately. We haven't quite got rid of it yet. I know the university announced masks for everybody, right?

STEPHEN STANDIFIRD: You know, we're handling this the way we have the very beginning. We continue to monitor, to pay attention. And as has been the case throughout, we'll continue to adjust our plans based on new information. And based on what's happening today, we thought it was important, like much of the community to shift to masks required indoors. And we'll do that being this semester, then, of course, we'll continue to follow the information, follow the data, and adjust the plans accordingly.

TIM SHELLEY: And with the vaccinations. So vaccination will not be required, but you're highly recommending it. How did you come on that policy?

STEPHEN STANDIFIRD: Sure. So one of the things that's really been wonderful for us this year, as our community, our students - I give a shoutout to our students- part of the way we were able to successfully navigate last year is of them really doing a great job of helping us do what we needed to do to get through the pandemic.

And we've done some initial surveys, some looking to see where we think the vaccination rate of our students will be. We'll get a handle on that at the beginning of the semester. And my hope and expectation always is that individuals will make decisions that will make it easier for us to do what we need to do to be successful. So that's something we'll continue to monitor, because we're going to require those that are not vaccinated to be part of our testing protocol.

We're collecting vaccination information. And if we find that the vast majority of our campus has gotten vaccinated, the numbers are moving in the right direction, obviously, we'll continue the path of not requiring vaccination, but it's something we'll watch. And if we find that that's not the case in the end, and the COVID virus continues to be problematic in terms of its spread, we'd obviously reconsider that decision.

TIM SHELLEY: One trend we've seen among the people who have lower vaccination rates, it really is the younger people, the college-age students, traditional college-aged students, I guess I should say, who do have lower rates for whatever reason. So how does Bradley University say, you know, you guys really need to go do this?

STEPHEN STANDIFIRD: So we'll continue to encourage the vaccination, and one of the things that will help us a lot is...look at, I will probably say that, I would argue that Bradley students aren't normal students. They rise above in many occasions, the way they handled themselves again, last year, I thought they did a fantastic job of handling themselves extremely well in a very complicated situation.

So we'll see. I don't want to make any assumptions about what those rates will look like. But we'll have a good sense by the end of this month, in fact, and from from that, we'll be able to make some assessments. So I wouldn't immediately assume that our numbers are going to track with the national numbers based on age group, but we'll see when they get on campus.

And the other thing we'll do is we'll continue to really emphasize that. Look, even though we're not requiring the vaccination, I'm a strong advocate. I'm vaccinated, my wife is vaccinated, my 12-year-old daughter, like the day she turned 12, we got her vaccinated, and when it's available for my eight-year-old daughter we'll do the same. So we continue to be big advocates for it. We'll make that available to students here on campus. So if it's something they want to do, but they haven't been able to do, we'll work with them to make sure that that happens, as well.

TIM SHELLEY: So it is going to be a more normal semester? Perhaps not entirely normal, but what changes? What's different?

STEPHEN STANDIFIRD: One of the big changes from last year is we will be face to face and campus. As you know, we were on campus throughout the semester last semester, and last year, so we've been able to be in the classroom throughout the year.

What I get excited about as this year, our hope and expectation is we'll be back something that resembles more of a traditional structure in terms of the face to face environment. Obviously, we'll continue to monitor that continue to pay attention. But our our expectation right now is that we will have a more traditional campus experience coming up this next year.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.