The nationwide stay and the University of Arizona’s COVID vaccine mandate

[Update Dec 11, 2021): Twenty minutes after I published the below post, President Robert Robbins sent a mass email to campus that included a brief acknowledgement of Tuesday’s ruling in Georgia to halt the government’s COVID vaccine mandate. It simply read: “Many of you are aware of the ongoing litigation regarding federal executive orders that imposed vaccine requirements on federal contractors. The University will continue to monitor legal developments and provide guidance to affected employees. In the meantime, we continue to strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated and for employees to verify their vaccination status.” Also, later the same day, Northern Arizona University announced that it had suspended its COVID vaccine mandate.]

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On Tuesday of this week, U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker in Georgia issued a nationwide stay that placed a halt on the federal government’s ability to require the COVID-19 vaccine for its contractual workers.

Since then, colleges and university across the nation have also halted their vaccine mandates, including the University of Kansas, the University of Iowa, and the University of Mississippi. The number of universities that are following suit is growing by the hour.

In Arizona, the Maricopa Community College District, which comprises of 10 schools, stopped its vaccine mandate almost immediately after Tuesday’s ruling.

But what about the University of Arizona, or the other two big state universities, namely ASU and NAU? How will they respond?

Up until the writing of this post, UA campus administrators have yet to advise its employees on any changes to their mandate. A quick glance at UA’s vaccine mandate webpage shows that it has not been updated; business as usual.

If the ruling in Georgia prohibits university administrators from mandating the vaccine (which I believe it does), it would significantly hinder their practice of white paternalism on campus, as this would take power away from them – power to tell brown, black, and other white people what do with their bodies.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, white paternalism is alive and well at the University of Arizona. In fact, it now thrives here under the guise of “public health,” and yet few people on campus seem to be disturbed by it. Or are they?

Since publicly voicing my opposition in October, faculty, staff, and students at UA have expressed similar concerns to me. But for good reasons they have chosen to keep their concerns private. I (and they) understand the power dynamics of institutions of higher education. And I am cognizant of my role at UA and position in the academy.

I expect soon that President Robert Robbins will send a mass email to all campus employees regarding the recent ruling in Georgia and any changes to UA’s vaccine mandate. This will be a carefully worded email, as campus administrators do not let go of power easily.

One cannot live on Wonder Bread alone

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you…”

II Timothy 1:5

When I was a child, I often visited my So’o (grandmother), Ethel, at her home in Flagstaff, Arizona. She and my Kwa’a (grandfather), Lloyd, lived in a small three bedroom house on the east side of town, not far from historic Route 66. 

Over the years I have reminisced with my siblings about those visits, laughing as we recount stories of us scurrying past So’o for the kitchen upon entering her home.  Never do I recall a time when So’o did not have in her refrigerator Wonder Bread, Oscar Mayer Bologna, and Sunny Delight. 

While happy to feed us, she realized that Christians also needed spiritual nourishment, and believed that her grandchildren could not live on Wonder Bread alone. 

For So’o, that nourishment came from the Bible and spiritual songs, all things she learned to appreciate as a young woman at the Ganado Mission School, a Mennonite Indian school in Ganado, Arizona. 

Visiting her home, I remember seeing So’o sitting at her piano, playing and singing Christian hymns in the Hopi language. One of the hymns that she played was “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, a song she sang with much heart and affection:

Nu-o-kwa Je-sus hah-layh-pi, Nuy mok-put ta-tay-na, Qa-ha-qam hi-mu i-nuh-pe, Na-hi-yon-e-way-o.

Translated in Hopi by Pastor Otto Lomavitu, the hymn speaks of mankind’s lost and sinful spiritual state, and God’s “amazing grace” of salvation through Jesus Christ.

“‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,” the hymn goes on to say in English, “And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”

Having been introduced to Christianity at an early age, So’o knew the importance of the Bible and Christian songs, and she wanted her family to treasure both.

One year for Christmas, So’o gave me a rare 1st edition copy of the Hopi hymnal Lomatuawh-Tatawi: Hopi Gospel Songs for Church and Street Services in Hopi-land (1972). In the inside cover, she wrote:

“To Matthew…Learn to read Hopi and sing these songs…”

Now in her 90s, So’o no longer plays the piano, but her Christian faith remains strong.

“So’o, Um hin sa ki?” a question I ask when I first see her. She responds by telling me about the “Good Lord” and His many provisions, and assures me that she is always praying for me and my family. 

So’o’s Christian faith is my faith, her hymns are my hymns. And her Christian example means more to me than anything else. “I have always cherished your faith in the Bible and love for Jesus,” I once told her in a typed letter, “the best grandmother a grandson could ever wish or hope for.”