Meredith Stafford, staff writer

The Berry Students for Medical Freedom is an unofficial, on-campus group that is centered around Berry’s COVID-19 procedures and, primarily, the treatment of unvaccinated students. Earlier in the year, students formed the group as a space to discuss their opinions, and the group focuses on the freedom of medical choices among students. 

Caleb Land, sophomore, was responsible for forming and organizing the underground group. While the group started out with under 15 people, Land estimates that it now sits at around 56 members. 

“In the beginning of the year, I had begun to talk to a few students who had also had similar opinions to that of mine and so then I decided to create the group Berry Students for Medical Freedom,” Land said. 

Land said that students in the group hope to promote individualism and freedom of thought on campus surrounding medical choices, but that they are not an anti-vaccination or anti-mask group. According to Land, their current focus revolves around the treatment of unvaccinated students on campus. 

“A lot of professors were mistreating those who had not received the COVID vaccine: segregating them, maybe by putting them in the back of the class, not offering to help them if they were quarantined, things like that,” Land said. “So, our main goal there was to eliminate the discrimination there in all aspects.” 

Land believes that Berry should respect the individual rights of students. 

“We want to make this campus a place in which people can be who they want to be—vaccinated or unvaccinated—and not just medically,” Land said. “We want people’s privacy to be respected. A lot of students and faculty are asking people’s vaccination statuses, which I believe you should be able to keep your own medical information confidential.” 

The group recently met with the college’s president to discuss options for change on campus. According to sophomore Abbey Nix, they asked for stipulations to rules regarding COVID-19 but understood that the administration takes the whole community into consideration.

“For example, we don’t mind getting tested, like, that’s okay if that’s something that Berry wants us to do,” Nix said. “As long as we don’t have to get vaccinated, then that’s fine because there’s some of us with medical conditions, some of us who just wanted [the vaccine] to be out a little bit longer, some of us who are just against it.” 

Their requests included asking that administration move the testing location for unvaccinated students to a more private space and that Berry cover the costs instead of the students being tested. The week following their requests, the location was moved from the Krannert Ballroom, the testing fees were waived and unvaccinated students were only required to test once per week instead of twice. All these changes were announced in an update from the Office of the President, and that same announcement also stated that a student with a previous COVID-19 infection no longer has to be tested, as there is evidence that it provides natural immunity. 

Nix feels that the college has met most of their goals, and she stated that future meetings may possibly involve open interest meetings so that more students can discuss subjects pertaining to the group. Nix believes that the group has different meanings for different members. 

“I think it’s important because I feel like every student deserves to have a voice in the choice for their medical freedom,” Nix said. “And we have a group that doesn’t discriminate against any ideas or qualities or political affiliations or any ideas for masks or no masks, but we just all have the one cohesive idea that we are for medical choice and medical freedom.” 

Sophomore Lawson Webster emphasized that the group encompasses a variety of different viewpoints. 

“Essentially, and I don’t think I can stress this enough, it is not an anti-vaccination group,” Webster said. “It is comprised of a wide array of vaccinated students, medically-exempt students, religiously-exempt students, a whole variety. It is simply people who, I believe at the core, like myself, desire the option to exercise their medical caretaking with their own discretion instead of at the insistence of an institution.” 

According to Webster, the Students for Medical Freedom formed as a support system for students who felt that it was not in their best interests to be vaccinated, including those who were medically advised against getting the vaccine. 

“One of the biggest things that struck me was Berry’s treatment of vaccinated students versus unvaccinated students and while I understand the reliance of science behind that, you still have to understand that those are people,” Webster said. “Adults, for that matter, that have made choices regarding their health and [the choice] needs to be treated with some sensitivity and some understanding for the humanity and the humility of the people behind that.” 

Webster stated that he wants to speak out against misconceptions about the group and he believes there are a wide range of reasons that a student may not get vaccinated. According to Webster, the group is not associated with any political affiliation. He feels that maintaining the community of Berry and the mental health of students is a priority. 

“We want to see a little bit more consistency between classroom and Berry policy in terms of not crucifying students for not being vaccinated before you even understand why,” Webster said. 

Webster stated that the group does not encourage the denial of medical principles but is rather concerned with the personal rights of students. 

“Those were some of our bigger goals: creating a little compassion and understanding for people who’ve made their choices without antagonizing them further,” Webster said. 

The most recent update to Berry’s policies regarding the COVID-19 virus include the removal of a mandate that requires all students, faculty and staff to wear masks indoors. The President’s Office sent an email the evening of Nov. 5 stating that the mandate had been lifted. Faculty and staff are able to require masks in their classes or personal offices.

Posted by Campus Carrier

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