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I’m Fighting for My Right to Learn

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My name is Serena Johnson. I am a blind student at the King’s university in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The university began implementing strict Covid restrictions that have harmed my way of life.

Before my classes began on September 8, 2021, every student at King’s was asked to fill out a survey about their vaccination status. Whether or not people had obtained vaccinations for any illnesses had not mattered to the university until this point. 

The fact that they requested people’s vaccination status regarding Covid deeply troubled me. I believe that whether people choose to obtain the shot or not should be considered private medical information. I stated that directly on the survey. 

The university also announced that a clinic would be open at the school on September 16, for those who wished to get the shot. 

On September 8, my first day back at school, I noticed a negative shift in the school’s atmosphere. My educational assistant began pressuring me aggressively to get the shot. “It’s all up to you, the people who need to be vaccinated, if we get back to normal or not,” she said. 

This was unusual behaviour that I had not seen from her before. It honestly disturbed me that someone who I respected would harass me for having different beliefs. On September 16 and 17, the school was closed due to the Restriction Exemption Program enforcing tighter controls on Alberta’s businesses. These measures would come into effect starting on September 27. 

This is where the trouble really started for me. King’s began forcing the students to choose. They must either: be vaccinated with both shots by November 1, have a valid medical exemption, or demonstrate proof of a negative rapid Covid test every three days in order to remain on campus. If not, online learning was the only other way for students to continue their education at King’s. 

I am not anti-vaccine but am anti-mandate. My reasons for not getting the shot are valid. I was born at 24 weeks. The doctors gave me oxygen to allow me to survive. The oxygen damaged my eyes, leaving me with light perception in my right eye but no other vision. I also had a Grade 4 cerebral bleed, which made my left side much weaker than my right. 

Due to this, the potential side-effects of the experimental mRNA therapy would be very harmful to me. Paralysis from Bell’s palsy is one side-effect that I am unwilling to risk. Another possibility is that I could lose the little sight that I possess. 

Unfortunately, I could not obtain an exemption because my issues are not deemed serious enough. The rapid Covid tests cost $40 each, which I cannot justify spending every three days. That left online learning as my only option. Unfortunately, I do not learn well online, as I found out last year. One of my English professors openly admitted that he would not look at the camera during class. 

“This isn’t the hybrid system of last year. I’ll be focusing on the in-person students and you’ll probably be the only one learning online. You won’t be able to participate in class and will be forgotten. You also won’t have the social aspect that you need in a learning environment so you won’t learn well in the online class,” he told me. 

Other classes would be similar in that regard. Even during the hybrid system, I was unable to participate online as well as I did in person. I was in the classroom half of the time and online during the other half. 

As an online student, I was often treated as an other rather than a full class member. The colder atmosphere on Zoom made me feel invisible. The increased levels of separation created by the new restrictions meant that Academic Leave was my only other option for success. I am six credits away from a three-year Bachelor of Arts degree as an English major. My GPA is high. Being forced to walk away like this saddens me because I love to learn. School was my life. Without that to turn to, my purpose and freedom have been removed.

The increased restrictions have caused other harms as well. While wearing a mask, I feel anonymous and inhuman. Few people are willing to approach me for conversation, compounding the difficulties I already face due to my disabilities. My disabilities made people nervous about including me in activities because they were afraid to approach. 

My blindness, cerebral palsy and intelligence could be dealt with individually. 

However, the combination of all of them made people uncertain about what to do. Being forced to wear masks made this worse by not allowing others to see my face. I became a shadow, rather than a person. 

Another issue is the lack of allowance to touch people and objects. Being blind, my sense of touch is vital for understanding my surroundings. When I am not allowed to shake hands or hug someone that I care about, I am deprived of important social connections. If I am not able to touch objects, I cannot obtain the same understanding that sighted people take for granted. 

In the long run, these restrictions will decrease my quality of life by not allowing me to have a proper university or life experience.

The Restriction Exemption Program’s actions are illegal according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Masks and vaccines should not be forced upon anyone. After the mandates end, will universities still require people to be vaccinated? 

At what point will their requirements to obtain people’s private information end? The way that my Christian university has treated me is unfair. All I want is to be treated like a human being, rather than a third-class creature. I will continue to fight for my freedom. Now that I am no longer in university, I have ample time to pursue this goal. I hope that my story inspires others to fight for their rights as well.

Author

  • Serena Johnson is an English major who studied at The King's University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for five years. She was one of the university's first blind students. She was forced to take Academic Leave due to the vaccine mandate, which negatively impacted her ability to learn.


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