Northern Illinois University requiring on-campus students to be vaccinated before returning in fall

University offering $100 incentive to vaccinated students, according to NIU president

DeKALB — Cass Kamp said she’s looking at mostly in-person classes for her upcoming last baccalaureate semester as a psychology and rehabilitation and disability services double-major at Northern Illinois University — which works out for her, as she feels she performs better in in-person classes.

Kamp said she had the more traditional college experience before campus had shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When she received the e-mail from NIU officials on Wednesday saying that on-campus students would be required to get the vaccine in order to live on campus or attend in-person classes, she said her initial reaction was being somewhat unnerved by “being told what I can and cannot do with my own body.”

But Kamp thought about it more and realized she already was required to receive other immunizations in order to attend the Illinois public school, she said. She also personally elected to get the Moderna vaccine earlier this year anyway to help mitigate transmission risk as a private swim lessons instructor and to be able to spend more time with her relatives who are more at risk.

“So I personally am comfortable with disclosing that medical record and meeting that requirement,” Kamp said.

Kamp’s comments came after NIU officials announced Wednesday students living on campus and taking in-person classes will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine with a $100 credit as an incentive.

NIU President Lisa Freeman said in a Wednesday email to students that university staff is focusing on “returning to a more traditional semester” for fall 2021. She said the university will require and provide the incentive for all students who live in residence halls, are in face-to-face classes or participate in in-person research and artistry.

Freeman said students in only online classes are exempt from this requirement and incentive.

“We realize that the limitations COVID-19 imposed on in-person and residential activities in 2020-21 had negative consequences for our community’s academic, social and mental health,” Freeman said in the Wednesday email to students. “We know you want to resume activities that enhance your personal, academic and professional growth, and we share this aspiration. Throughout the pandemic, the university has been closely monitoring evolving scientific evidence and public health guidance, and we recognize now that the most effective way for our campus community to accomplish these goals is through COVID-19 vaccination.”

Students who are living in residence halls or Northern View are required to receive either dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine before they move into their rooms for the upcoming school year. Students not living in university housing but are taking in-person classes should receive the full dose of their vaccines by Aug. 20, according to university staff.

Students who show proof of vaccination to university officials on or before their deadlines will get $100 each, according to the university’s statement. They may choose to receive the $100 in a refund or have it applied to their fall 2021 account balance.

“Instructions on how to provide authorization for disclosure of vaccination records or to upload a copy of the Vaccination Record Card will be communicated soon,” Freeman said. “Students who have not received the full dose of the vaccines by their required date will not be permitted to move into the residence halls or attend in-person classes unless they have approved exemptions.”

Kamp said she initially missed the part in the student email about getting $100 as a vaccinated NIU student. She said her decision to get vaccinated was more of personal value to her, but she thinks the money will make a difference to people who were indifferent to the vaccination.

“Because who wouldn’t take free money,” Kamp said with chuckle.

In a separate Wednesday email to NIU employees obtained by Daily Chronicle, university officials wrote the university will not require employees to receive COVID-19 vaccines. However, all employees will be added to the weekly surveillance testing pool beginning in mid-August and can be excused from testing if they are fully vaccinated or if their supervisors can verify employees are working entirely remotely.

“There are members of our community who are reluctant to get vaccinated because of concerns about side effects, mistrust of our health systems or a lack of understanding the science involved in creating the vaccine,” Freeman said in the email to NIU employees. “I did not hesitate to get vaccinated because I am convinced that facts show the vaccine is safe, effective and worthwhile.”

Kamp said she also is a student worker at NIU. She said she’s still not entirely sure why it’s not a requirement for faculty to also get vaccinated, but added she is a student leader as a student worker on campus and it’s important to lead by example in what the university wants students to do.

“Part of being a Huskie is being part of the pack,” Kamp said.

Students will be able to request exemption from the vaccine requirement for documented health or religious reasons and more information on how to request exemptions will be provided in the coming weeks, according to NIU officials. The university also will allow students to request personal exemptions while the three COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States are under an FDA Emergency Use Authorization exemption, the email to students states.

“Students who are not vaccinated will be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing,” Freeman said.

Freeman said all students participating in organized extracurricular events and activities will be expected to follow relevant Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines.

NIU officials reminded students who are not fully vaccinated and those who may need to take extra precautions should continue wearing masks indoors and in crowded settings when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

“Students who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks, but may choose to do so,” Freeman said in the email to students.

Freeman urged members of the university community to “not make assumptions, question, judge or discriminate against others” regarding masks or vaccination status.

“Making this decision was not quick or easy, nor will it be embraced by all,” Freeman said. “There are members of our community who are reluctant to get vaccinated because of concerns about side effects, mistrust of our health systems or a lack of understanding the science involved in creating the vaccine. I did not hesitate to get vaccinated because I am convinced that facts show the vaccine is safe, effective and worthwhile. I encourage you to learn more about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines from experts and medical professionals with diverse backgrounds and expertise. I want you to get vaccinated as soon as possible so that you and our NIU community are protected.”

The announcement came after Matt Streb, chief of staff to NIU President Lisa Freeman, said in April the vaccinations were not required at that time for students to attend NIU in the Fall 2021 semester, though multiple colleges and universities across the country have made it a requirement for their students. Previously, he said there weren’t decisions made yet one way or the other for the next academic year.

NIU officials did not provide additional comment beyond the Wednesday university statements and deferred the public to the university’s website for more information about the vaccine, incentive and requirements.

At the end of the day, Kamp said, “it is your body” and what you’re comfortable with putting in it. However, she wants more senior students to consider the newer students who haven’t had the more traditional college experience yet because of the pandemic.

“I would urge people to do what they’re comfortable with,” Kamp said. “But also, recognize that the research has proven that it’s safe and to consult with your doctor … so we can move forward.”

• This story was updated 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 23, 2021 to include additional comment from NIU student and student worker Cass Kamp.

Katie Finlon

Katie Finlon covers local government and breaking news for DeKalb County in Illinois. She has covered local government news for Shaw Media since 2018 and has had bylines in Daily Chronicle, Kendall County Record newspapers, Northwest Herald and in public radio over the years.