WVU State of the University

Graduate workers protest for a vaccine mandate at a State of the University address on Monday, Oct. 18, at the College of Law Fitzsimmons Event Hall.

Following the recent Faculty Senate and State of the University Address, a group of graduate student workers at West Virginia University spoke out about their continued frustration with the COVID regulations on campus. 

Last week, a Twitter user (@_TaylorMiller_) posted a petition in response to the recent lifts in COVID-19 protocols on campus. The petition is asking for the University to reimplement a mask mandate throughout all campus facilities as well as requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for all students and employees.

“In order to best support the wellbeing of our campus community members, we call on West Virginia University to join at least 773 other US campuses and the WVU Health System in implementing a mask mandate in all campus facilities and a vaccine requirement for all students and employees,” the petition reads. “The WVU Health System is the largest employer in West Virginia; we urge the state's largest university to follow its lead, for the safety and well being of its campuses and the communities where they exist.”

Following the petition being posted, a group of protestors assembled at the Mountainlair Free Speech Circle on Friday, Oct. 22.

One of the members in attendance at the protest was Vahid Arefi, a graduate teaching assistant at WVU.

“It's shocking that after a majority of students, staff and faculty voted in favor of a vaccine mandate and stronger health protections, the University administration responded by rolling back the indoor mask mandate,” he said.

Many protestors shared that they were frustrated with school administrators’ back-and-forth response to COVID-19 precautions and regulations on campus.

“We want a mask mandate that doesn’t change every few weeks. We want consistency and clear, fact-driven health communication rather than baseless optimism that COVID is just going to go away if we pretend it doesn’t exist,” said Arefi.

This petition specifically is open to the Morgantown community as a whole, not just WVU students and employees.

“We strongly believe that West Virginia University has a responsibility to the community we reside in,” Arefi said regarding the openness of the petition.

When asked about the goals and outreach the protestors were expecting, Grace Smith, a graduate student at WVU said, “The University has heard it. They have heard it from the Faculty Senate Resolution, they have heard it from what SGA has organized and even from a survey that the Staff Council sent out with more than 50% of people also in favor of a vaccine mandate.”

After the protest Friday, Arefi said the petition received over 120 additional signatures “in favor of an indoor mask mandate, a vaccine requirement and clear health communication.”

These numbers were added to the preexisting results of the online petition circulating on social media. 

Overall, a large number of students, faculty and community members have shared their concerns and frustration with WVU’s COVID response. The University has yet to provide a response to the petition or protest that took place last week.

“By not having policies that are informed by actual research, you [WVU] undermine yourself as a research institution,” Smith said.

Editor's Note: After publication, the Daily Athenaeum made changes to a quote after discovering Smith said "people," not "teachers" when referring to the Staff Council vote.