Last week, University of Chicago administrators informed on-campus students and the Chicago Thinker that unvaccinated students are banned from eating in dining halls—a policy that appears to be inconsistent with city law. After the Chicago Thinker further inquired, the dining policy was reversed with no explanation. It is unclear whether the university ever actually enforced the policy. Currently, the university is ignoring all questions from the Chicago Thinker.
On January 22, UChicago students living in Liew House, a UChicago dorm community, were informed by a university-employed resident head that unvaccinated students “are not allowed to eat in the dining halls” because “per the Chicago ordinated in place, any unvaccinated individual is not allowed to eat inside a restaurant. This also means that those unvaccinated now have unlimited to go meals.”
The resident head confirmed this policy in an email to the Chicago Thinker, writing that unvaccinated students “now have their swipe card activated for unlimited to go meals.”
The Chicago Thinker again confirmed this policy with a second resident head for Wallace House. According to this resident head, “[u]nvaccinated students have to take their meal[s] to go.”
The Chicago Thinker received further confirmation of the policy upon calling Housing & Residence Life, an administrative entity that oversees UChicago’s dorms and dining halls.
Despite the Liew House resident head attributing the new policy to Chicago’s recent indoor-dining vaccine mandate, the policy seems to be inconsistent with the city’s ordinance. As the Chicago mandate specifically notes, individuals who have received a medical or religious exemption and tested negative for COVID within 72 hours are exempt from the mandate.
All unvaccinated UChicago students are required to receive a medical or religious exemption and be tested for COVID every week. As a result, all unvaccinated students at UChicago are compliant with the Chicago mandate and should not be barred from Chicago indoor dining, so long as they have received a negative COVID test result within the preceding 72 hours. The university’s dining policy made no such accommodations for unvaccinated students.
Confusingly, when the Chicago Thinker contacted UChicago Communications for a statement, the policy’s existence was denied.
According to spokesperson Gerald McSwiggan, “[a]s noted in the December 31 message to campus, dine-in service on campus currently is limited to UChicago students and employees, as they are required to comply with University vaccination requirements, including the exemption process. Students in residence halls previously have been advised that if they are unvaccinated, they must maintain six feet of distance from other students when dining.”
McSwiggan further clarified that “[t]he University does not have additional vaccination requirements for students in dining commons. We apologize for any misunderstanding among students or staff.”
The Chicago Thinker asked McSwiggan on January 27 why university administrators confirmed the existence of the policy and from whom the policy came. McSwiggan ignored the Chicago Thinker’s requests for information and clarification.
The Chicago Thinker also contacted Richard Mason, assistant vice president for campus life and associate dean of the college, to ask the same questions. Mason confirmed the statement given by McSwiggan but did not answer any questions, referring all further inquiries back to UChicago Communications.
Barely an hour after the Chicago Thinker contacted Mason, the first resident head who confirmed the policy to the Chicago Thinker sent a new email to all students in Liew House. Contradicting what they previously relayed, the resident head stated that unvaccinated students “are permitted to eat in the dining halls.”
The Chicago Thinker asked this resident head the same questions that were not answered by McSwiggan and Mason. No response was given.
A few days later, a different Liew House resident head contacted the Chicago Thinker, writing that we “can reach out to the University Communications Office for all information [we] need for [our] article.”
As previously mentioned, the Chicago Thinker reached out to UChicago Communications on January 27, but the department has since gone dark, refusing to even respond to the Thinker.
Many questions remain unanswered:
- Why did university administrators confirm the policy’s existence?
- Who, or which administrative department, proposed the policy?
- Why was a policy that appears to be inconsistent with city law promoted by university administrators?
- Will a formal apology be given to unvaccinated students for telling them to abide by a discriminatory policy seemingly inconsistent with city law?
- Did the university reverse this policy only because the Chicago Thinker inquired about it?
UChicago Communications and Housing & Residence Life refuse to answer these questions. This article will be updated if the Chicago Thinker receives new information.