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Students gather at a protest opposing Rutgers University’s vaccine mandate.

Courtesy of Young Americans for Liberty

When Virginia Tech announced in June that it would require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Ben Walls, a junior multimedia journalism student, was upset. As co-president of the Virginia Tech Young Americans for Liberty, a youth libertarian organization with chapters across U.S. campuses, he started circulating a petition on campus to oppose the mandate.

"We were a little angry that Virginia Tech was going to tell us what’s best for us and our health care," Walls said. "These vaccines are a personal and private decision that shouldn’t be mandated by the school administration."

Now other chapters of Young Americans for Liberty are following suit. The national organization announced Wednesday that it was coordinating with student leaders at 23 public campuses -- including Rutgers University and the University of Colorado at Boulder, in addition to Virginia Tech -- to push back “against government interference in private medical decisions.”

“The organization is not anti-vaccine, but rather anti-vaccine mandate at taxpayer-funded academic institutions,” YAL said in a press release.

Walls said the Virginia Tech petition currently has 1,100 signatures and that the YAL chapter rallied alumni and others to pull donations from the school because of the mandate. He added that his organization spoke with the office of the president and the dean of students to express their frustration over not being heard.

“COVID-19 is a serious disease that I think all of us really do have to do our part in order to stop the spread,” Walls said. “But that doesn’t mean that Virginia Tech, as a state agency, really should have to do anything in order to ‘keep us safe.’”

Since the in-person semester started at Virginia Tech over two weeks ago, the institution disenrolled 134 students who were not in compliance with the COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Walls, who isn’t vaccinated, said he has a religious exemption, which requires him to get weekly COVID tests to remain a student at Virginia Tech. For him, the petition serves as a way to share a different perspective.

“Our university is too large and too diverse for President [Tim] Sands to have unilateral authority to speak for all of us students,” Walls said. “And ultimately, vaccines are a personal decision to be made by the individual students and not be mandated by the university administration.”

Sara Razi, a junior at Rutgers and one of YAL’s New Jersey state chairs, organized a protest on campus in May, rallying 600 people. The rally followed Rutgers’s announcement last March that it would require all students enrolled for fall 2021 to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“After Rutgers University became the first university in America to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, I decided to organize a campaign to stand up for the rights of students to make their own personal medical decisions,” Razi said in a press release.

YAL’s coordinated push to get students to oppose vaccine mandates runs counter to the demands for stricter COVID-19 protocols many students and faculty are making on other campuses. Some professors have publicly announced that they’re leaving their institutions or choosing not to teach this term because their institutions don’t have vaccine or mask mandates.

The student government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill held an emergency meeting to get students and faculty to sign an open letter demanding the administration enact mandatory vaccination and testing policies. Additionally, two new polls found students overwhelmingly support vaccine and mask mandates at their institutions and are hesitant about returning to normal college life.

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