All I wanted to do at the University of Chicago was get a top-notch education and play the game I love: football. But because I am unvaccinated for COVID (having already had the virus and tested positive for natural T-cell immunity), the university administration has badgered me, discriminated against me, and even spied on me.
UChicago’s COVID policies continue to ignore facts and defy science. What I have endured at the hands of the administration is thoroughly contrary to data, reason, and ethics.
As a student athlete, I had to spend most of August and September at the 2021 preseason football camp on campus. When I showed up for preseason camp on the morning of August 11, I was informed that the University had decided that unvaccinated players must sit in solitary quarantine for a week—meaning that we could not practice or go out or do anything at all.
I had shown up in the middle of August to get in shape for football, not to sit inside a room alone for a week. But the other unvaccinated players and I had no choice, so we obeyed, isolating ourselves indoors while the vaccinated players went to regular preseason practice. After a week in quarantine, I foolishly thought I would now be able to freely participate as a student-athlete at the University of Chicago. How wrong I was.
University Officials Surveilled Me Because I Am Unvaccinated
I was looking forward to living with my friend and fellow football teammate in our assigned double room, for which we had applied and had been granted last spring. But the housing office told me that, because I am unvaccinated, I had to move into a single room.
Rather than argue, I simply stayed across the hall in the double room I had already moved into with my friend, procrastinating on moving my things into my newly assigned single. One morning a week or two thereafter, I was awakened by three exceedingly officious university housing officials pounding on my dorm door, screaming my name. (A friend who happened to be out in the hallway as they approached heard them say, gleefully and menacingly, “We’re gonna get that unvaxxed kid!”) I groggily opened the door and each of the three berated me in turn for sleeping in an “unauthorized bed.”
As shocking as the door-banging and yelling were, the underlying reality was yet more disturbing: the university had clearly been spying on me. It made me feel a bit uneasy that UChicago was monitoring and judging where I slept, but I was pretty busy playing football, so I tried to shrug it off. I apologized to the bureaucrats and said I would sleep in my mandated bed.
The University Rescinded My Approved Vaccine Exemption
When UChicago mandated the COVID vaccine for all students last May, it allowed students to file for either a medical or religious exemption. I believed that I qualified for both of these and elected to speak with my doctor (a cardiologist) and file for a medical exemption in June 2021.
One month later, in July, my exemption was “verified” by UChicago Medicine in the Student Wellness Portal, placing me in compliance with the university’s vaccine mandate. From July through October, I assumed that I could rely upon my approved exemption for the entire duration of my time at the university.
But, suddenly, on October 26, in the middle of midterm exams, with no prior notice that my “verified” medical exemption was somehow deficient, I received the following email from no identifiable human but signed “UChicago Student Wellness”:
This anonymous threat from Student “Wellness,” arriving in the middle of midterm exams (for which I was studying even more intensely than normal, because, during football season, predawn practices take their toll), actually made me feel quite unwell.
Can an anonymous email really announce that my student ID has been deactivated, that I am barred from my dorm, cannot eat at the dining hall, cannot enter campus buildings, have no access to university Wi-Fi, and cannot register for winter classes?
How am I “not in compliance with the University’s Covid-19 vaccine requirement,” when the university already approved my exemption?
I have natural immunity. I have a recent test showing I have T-cell immunity. Since my bout with COVID, I have been COVID-free, unlike many of my vaccinated friends.
I called my parents and told them they might need to get me a hotel room because Student “Wellness” said I would be locked out of my dorm. And I replied simply to the emailed threat:
Presumably because my parents and I objected to this anonymously threatened shutdown of my life at the university and pressed for further information, my student ID remained functional and I was able to register for winter classes. Yet the reason for this threat, and the individuals behind it, were never revealed.
As I again tried to push the anonymous and authoritarian threats from my mind to focus on midterms, I could not help but wonder how other students might cope with this heavy-handedness, if their parents weren’t in a position to write emails and arrange hotel rooms. I had to call on all my resources to make sure I had food, shelter, and Wi-Fi so that I could focus on my academic requirements.
Then, on November 29, the week before final exams, I received an email from Richard McDonough, the senior medical director of UChicago Student Wellness:
Although this email was signed by a human being—an M.D., no less—McDonough assumed no responsibility for the inaccurate and inexplicable declaration about my vaccination status. I thought: I’ve already been granted a medical exemption. There is no pending “request.” Who are these nameless “experts” making decisions about my health?
I raised these and other questions in my reply to McDonough:
Two weeks later, on December 13, McDonough responded, but refused to answer any of my questions:
Not only did he refuse to answer any of my questions or name those who revoked my medical exemption, McDonough now characterized my accepted medical exemption as “temporary.”
My vaccine exemption was never characterized as “temporary” before, but the university now purports to revoke it based on views of anonymous “experts” who have never examined me and whose data and reasoning have never been provided.
Again seeking answers—or at least a rational discussion—I emailed back:
Three weeks later, McDonough responded to my latest email:
Still no answers to my questions. The university is really, truly trying to rescind an approved medical exemption that it never formally labeled as “temporary.” McDonough again failed to provide any studies or data that form the “consensus” that my own doctor is wrong. Nor did he name any of these UChicago “experts” who seem hell-bent on injecting me with a substance that my personal doctor strongly advises against, that I do not want, that I do not need, and that does not affect any other person I may encounter.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I promptly emailed McDonough:
As of the publication of this article, the university stands by its threat to revoke my student status on January 31.
The Great and Powerful Oz Has Spoken
My COVID vaccine encounter with the university reminds me of the climactic scene from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her friends fulfill the requirement imposed upon them by the Wizard, delivering the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. But after they uphold their end of the bargain, the projected face of the Wizard inexplicably refuses to grant their requests.
Like Dorothy, one wonders about the university: “If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises.” When a student provides everything demanded to satisfy a vaccine exemption, and the exemption is granted, but then the projected face of the Wizard says the exemption is no good, one wonders who and what is behind that projected face.
Who are these anonymous medical experts behind the curtain? If they are “well-acquainted with the medical literature,” why don’t they identify themselves, show their data and studies, and provide their reasoning?
UChicago, like the Wizard, ironically does not respond well to critical thinking and questions. It merely bellows, “Do you presume to criticize the Great Oz?” (At least the Wizard of Oz did not hold himself out as a great academic institution devoted to intellectual freedom, rigorous inquiry, and humanity.)
The message here is the same: “The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
It’s high time for the man to come out from behind the curtain, and for transparency, reason, and basic human decency to prevail.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Arthur Long is a sophomore at the University of Chicago who studies history and plays defensive end for the Maroons football team. Follow him on Twitter @arthur__long or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.