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UBC 'doing the bare minimum' as students prepare to return during pandemic: student union

"It is disappointing to see UBC fall behind," they write.
UBC students are concerned about their safety returning to the campus regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo.

University of British Columbia students are concerned about returning to campus as the pandemic continues, calling the administration's plan "unacceptable."

In an open letter to UBC, the Alma Mater Society (AMS) — which represents more than 56,000 students — calls UBC's plan the "bare minimum" and wants to see more done before students return to campus in just over a month.

"The AMS Council unanimously passed a motion to call on the University of British Columbia to do more to ensure the safety and security of members of the UBC Community by mandating vaccinations in student residences and mandating masks in lecture halls," writes AMS president Cole Evans and VP of academic and university affairs Eshana Banghu in the letter.

In a recent survey by the AMS around 82 per cent of students supported the idea of mandatory vaccinations for students living in the student residences.

"As raised by us in previous correspondence, there is an increasing number of universities in North America that have mandated at least one dose of vaccination to be on campus, as well as, to reside in student residences (with exemptions)," the pair state in the letter. "It is disappointing to see UBC fall behind as other Canadian institutions take the lead in this arena and implement extra measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their respective communities."

On its website the university notes it's following the guidance of B.C. Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and other health authorities. Earlier this month the province released a Return-to-Campus guide with examples from the restart plan about what can be expected. In it they state that right now masks are only recommended, people should be careful about social contact and there is enhanced cleaning.

On Sept. 7 the example plan says masks would be a personal choice, social contact can be normal and there would be "modified seasonal cleaning." Buildings and rooms would be allowed to hit maximum capacity and work or organizational gatherings would be allowed at full capacity. Events, parties, sports events, concerts and group activities would all be allowed.

The university links to this guide from its website. It also has its own website for COVID-19 rules, which mostly refer to the province's guidance.

"60% of students have concerns about being exposed to COVID-19 in classrooms and lecture halls," state the student leaders in the letter. "With thousands of students coming back to campus who will be seated in packed lecture halls alongside hundreds of students, we ask that the University implement measures in those high-risk areas. This could be through a mask mandate in lecture halls, or other measures that the University deems will truly address the concerns of the UBC community."

They ask the university's board and administrators to address the concerns.

"Based on current guidance from provincial and regional public health authorities, UBC is planning for a return to on-campus activity for Winter Session, Term 1, in September," states the university about returning to UBC classrooms.

The AMS says following the province's guidance isn't enough.

"This is an opportunity to demonstrate to students that the University’s leadership is genuine in their efforts to listen to and work for students," states the letter writers.