Second-Class Scholar: How College COVID-19 Mandates Shattered My Dreams

Phoebe Liou, accepted to the University of Connecticut (UConn) at just 16 years old, was faced with fighting to remain at her school and to retain $23,000 of merit scholarships.

It was the semester of Fall 2021 at the school of my dreams, the University of Connecticut (UConn). I purchased my textbooks, paid my tuition, and prepared myself to be a diligent and motivated student like many others who looked forward to embarking on their college education. Little did I know, I was about to have my dreams shattered: $23,000 of the merit scholarships I earned were canceled, I was refused class registration and canceled from my chosen university, and my academic statuses vanished — all because I believe in freedom of choice.

I was accepted to UConn when I was 16 years old, after dual-enrolling in 8 courses at 4 Connecticut universities and colleges as part of my homeschool education. I had graduated high school just months prior to my acceptance. While at UConn, I earned my place as a repeat on the Dean’s List, a 2021 Babbidge Scholar (top 5% of my entire college), and an Honors Scholar. I took part in 3 internships, 1 research fellowship, and was part of 2 scholarly cohorts as a freshman at UConn. I was fascinated by my pre-dental studies and completely enthralled by this college experience – until it crumbled.

When the COVID-19 vaccine was released, I was hesitant to accept such a novel treatment permanently into my body. CNN wrote, “Past vaccine disasters show why rushing a coronavirus vaccine now would be ‘colossally stupid”, and WebMD reminded us of “What Happened Other Times a Vaccine Was Rushed?” .

No matter how great the messaging for a product – there’s always a chance of it being recalled from the market or heavily scrutinized (think: the opioid crisis, Vioxx, and the Tylenol Autism Lawsuit). Besides, neither I nor anyone I was in close contact with was a high risk individual and I took responsibility to regularly practice preventative measures.

So I applied and was granted a “non-medical” vaccine exemption. One of the notices on my exemption acceptance letter was, “Surveillance testing recommended”.

Email notice of the exemption which was granted.

Yet just 5 weeks after the approval of my exemption, emails from UConn appeared in my inbox related to UConn’s COVID-19 policy, as shown in the image below. Since I had only agreed to the recommendation of surveillance testing, I believed these emails to be inapplicable to me. However, mid-semester I learned that my “non-compliance” led to a hold on my student account that prevented me from registering for next semester’s courses

Email notification of “Mandatory: Weekly Covid-19 Testing Requirement”.

With alarm bells ringing in my head, I headed to their testing center to get a COVID-19 test… at least, that’s what I was expecting to receive. As I held the testing kit UConn provided, my stomach did a flip. On the packaging, it spelled out in print: “Innovative DNA Collection Kit… For research use only… Not for use in diagnostic procedures”.

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