Verbum Ultimum: Out of State, Out of Mind
Dartmouth must publicly rebuke New Hampshire Gov. Sununu's ban on vaccinations for out-of-state students.
Spring has sprung at Dartmouth, bringing with it not only warmer weather but also the hope of an impending return to relative normalcy. Americans across the country are being rapidly vaccinated against COVID-19, and with New Hampshire’s expansion of vaccine eligibility to all residents over the age of 16 as of today, Dartmouth students are hopeful that we, too, may soon get the jab.
However, in light of recent decisions by the state, such a positive outlook may prove to be misplaced: On March 26, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that out-of-state students will be barred from receiving vaccines in New Hampshire. This decision, if followed through on, will leave many Dartmouth students unvaccinated and dramatically slow the return of normalcy to both Dartmouth's campus and the Upper Valley.
Sununu's decision defies logic. Most crucially, refusing to vaccinate out-of-state college students will leave a significant portion of the state’s population unvaccinated, posing a threat to everyone in New Hampshire. As evidenced by the outbreak at Dartmouth this winter, unvaccinated students can quickly and easily transmit the virus — and left to their own devices, may do so to other Granite Staters who either have yet to complete their vaccine regimen or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. The argument that out-of-state college students are taking vaccines from permanent residents of New Hampshire carries little weight, considering the current abundance of available vaccine appointments and the trajectory of vaccine supply.
Sununu has also argued that students can simply return to their home states to get the vaccine. At best, this assertion rests on a willfully ignorant and morally dubious line of reasoning. Unvaccinated out-of-state college students are a risk for surrounding communities as they finish classes in New Hampshire and, in returning home, put at unnecessary risk their families and the travelers they may encounter along the way. Moreover, in Dartmouth’s case, Sununu’s argument rests on the false assumption that out-of-state students will be returning home for the summer. In reality, sophomore summer will keep many sophomores and juniors on or near campus. These students should be vaccinated as soon as possible for their own safety and that of the community.
Sununu's policy, while absurd on its face, is not surprising. The decision is in line with his record of disdain for out-of-state students, evidenced by his repeated recent attempts to strip students living on campus of their voting rights. If this rejection of out-of-state students’ residency for voting and vaccinations is based on legal principle, the law has already been settled — students can vote in New Hampshire because our domicile is in New Hampshire, making us legally equivalent to residents. If the decision is political — college students tend to lean Democratic — then Sununu, a Republican, has revealed a willingness to endanger the lives of his constituents in order to gain an electoral edge.
So, what is to be done? The College is, understandably, in a difficult position. The preservation of its vaccination scheduling partnership with the state is just one thing to consider in deciding on a course of action. Nonetheless, it is vital that Dartmouth condemn the sidelining of its students and throw its considerable resources and influence behind changing the regulation. Dartmouth's silence thus far on the issue — College President Phil Hanlon’s spring welcome email hailed the promising trajectory of vaccinations but ignored Sununu’s latest broadside against students — is in line with a pattern of obsessing over public image at the expense of students’ well-being, with the recent Title IX sports team debacle being one example of many.
In the vacuum left by Dartmouth, other New Hampshire schools have taken the lead on publicly challenging Sununu. On Wednesday, the New Hampshire College and University Council — a consortium of 21 public and private institutions in New Hampshire of which Dartmouth, for some reason, is not a member — announced discussions with the governor’s office to identify a timeline for out-of-state student vaccine eligibility. Hopefully, these colleges will be able to secure a sensible solution.
Regardless, Dartmouth cannot remain silent. The College should join its peers and apply pressure, both publicly and privately, to ensure that out-of-state students are included in New Hampshire's vaccination timeline. If the policy is not changed, Dartmouth must find an alternative method to ensure its local students can establish residency to receive vaccines, similar to how the Office of Residential Life partners with the town of Hanover to ensure students living on campus can register to vote. Under the governor’s office’s guidelines sent to The Dartmouth last week, a paystub from the last 60 days with the student’s local or Hinman address on it may suffice as proof of residency. Arranging for paystubs to be accessible to a wide range of students seems feasible enough.
The College is responsible for protecting the health and safety of its students and, by extension, the communities they inhabit. Step up, Dartmouth, so we can all get our shots.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.