By Maya Pottiger | Word In Black

(WIB) – In-person or remote? Booster or just two vaccine shots? Thanks to the surge in the Omicron variant, many of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities are retooling their plans for their upcoming or newly-beginning spring semesters. And campuses are taking a variety of approaches to ensuring students can learn in a safe environment.

That’s why Word In Black created a database of instruction status (delayed, virtual, hybrid, or in-person) and vaccination requirements (fully vaccinated, booster, or no requirement) at the roughly 100 HBCUs across the country. 

Approximately 60 schools have sent us their latest plans, and we’ll regularly update our analysis as more campuses provide information. But of those schools that have updated their requirements, 14 require a booster shot, 13 say students must have at least two doses of an approved vaccine, and 33 do not have any vaccine requirements.

“HBCUs have an opportunity to step up and to make sure that we provide information,” Howard University president Dr. Wayne Frederick told NBC News in September at the start of the 2021-22 school year. “Our job is not to coerce or convince anybody. Our job is simply to educate.”

Breaking the numbers down further, 13 schools currently require students to attend in-person classes. Of those schools, eight do not have vaccine requirements. On the opposite end of the spectrum, at the 14 campuses where booster shots are mandatory, seven of those schools are virtual, three delayed the start of classes, and two are having in-person instruction. 

As is the case at many higher education institutions across the United States in general, at schools with vaccine requirements, students are often barred from registering for classes, or are unregistered, if they do not provide proof of vaccination.

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The range of approaches to dealing with Omicron comes as the Black community continues to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Black people have experienced higher infection, hospitalization, and death rates than their white peers.

Though an across-the-board two doses and a booster vaccine requirement might seem straightforward, there are several factors to consider. For one, some HBCUs are private schools, meaning they often have greater autonomy to decide what health and safety protocols they’ll put in place. Of the 12 schools that are requiring booster shots, 10 of them are private. And when we look at schools requiring two doses of a vaccine, five are public and four are private.

In addition, among the many healthcare disparities the Black community faces, a prominent one is a lack of vaccine access. The difficulty in accessing life-saving COVID-19 vaccines has various causes, including a lack of transportation to reach vaccine clinics and employers not giving people time off to get the vaccine or recover from its side effects. 

“Our job is not to coerce or convince anybody. Our job is simply to educate.”


There’s also vaccine hesitancy, with some folks citing possible side effects and other people having a “higher need” to be vaccinated as reasons why they’ve skipped getting a shot. 

However, HBCUs are providing resources for students to get vaccinated — and some are even offering incentives, like Starbucks gift cards and other financial compensation. In the majority of schools, students must provide a negative test to come back to campus, and many schools require regular testing. Schools are also making their mask guidelines clear for returning students.

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.