By Reginald Stuart

Nashville’s colleges and universities are taking big steps this month to help mitigate the spread of the deadly COVID-19 Coronavirus in their communities as they open their doors this month for the 2021-22 academic school year.

From tiny America Baptist College to giant Vanderbilt University, Fisk and Belmont universities and institutions in between, the steps range from a very simple ‘get vaccinated or don’t come here’ admonition to strong encouragement messages to get vaccinated. Thousands of college students are expected by Labor Day to enroll in Nashville area colleges. 

Some institutions are offering gift cards and other enticements to get vaccinated or risk joining the thousands around the country who have died in the past year from the disease.

“I think we are at a critical stage in this Delta variant (of the corona COVID-19) virus,” said Dr. James E. K. Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College and a member of the advisory committee to the director of the National Institute of Health. 

“Delta is much more serious…and much more contagious,” said Dr. Hildreth, who’s institution and its peer, Vanderbilt University, is requiring all staff, faculty, students and consultants to get vaccinated for the virus and have proof of their vaccination.  

“In the interest of health and safety, we made a decision to require proof of vaccinations for all American Baptist College (ABC) students and personnel, as well as adjuncts and consultants, said Forrest E. Harris, Sr., president of American Baptist College.

“With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus being fueled by the Delta variant posing renewed public health threats to disrupt the planned resumption of in-person classes and on-campus living for ABC students; the need for prompt, unequivocal action is necessary to provide greater protection of the health of all members of the college community and their families,” said Dr. Harris, his thoughts echoing other area institution presidents concerned about their communities.

At Vanderbilt University, the city’s largest private college and largest employer, the message reflecting peer and community concern was just as sound:

“To keep the VU community as safe as possible and help ensure the ability to continue to conduct in-person teaching and learning, all new and returning students will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for the 2021-21 academic year,” Vanderbilt said, in a widely distributed statement. The university said the same across-the-board policy applies to its thousands of employees, faculty, staff members and post-doctoral fellow.

Vanderbilt students must submit vaccination report records through the university vaccination tracker form, the university said.

Tennessee State University president, Dr. Glenda Glover, was firm in her encouragement that students get vaccinated, although barred by the state legislature from requiring shots against the deadly disease. 

The state’s governor and a majority of the state’s legislature, controlled by politically right-wing Republicans, adamantly oppose requiring the Covid-19 mitigation medicine.

“Tennessee State University plans to maintain in-person classes and operations during the entire 2021-2022 academic year,” said Dr. Glover. “All students, faculty, staff, and other campus community members are asked to wear face coverings while indoors, and social distancing is also stressed,” she said.

“We remain resolute in our commitment to provide a top-quality education and productive work environment in a safe and healthy atmosphere,” says Dr. Glover. “However, the University is prepared to adjust its course delivery model, including the implementation of a hybrid academic model, as well as other operational changes, at some point during the fall semester, if new or evolving COVID-19 related health and safety concerns warrant such adjustments.

“We will continue to monitor Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), as well as state and local guidance, on developments involving COVID-19 and related variants. Federal, state and local health and safety guidance will continue to drive the University’s actions regarding course delivery and in-person operations affecting the TSU community,” she said.

TSU plans to work with Meharry in offering vaccination stations during the opening weeks of the school year hoping to boost area vaccination rates, which have been low in poor and minority neighborhoods compared to overall vaccination rates.

The latest news for public elementary and high school students is expected to come sometime Thursday, as the Metro Nashville Public Schools System board is expected to meet Thursday morning to update its plan for this fall’s reopening.