COVID-19 has presented distinct challenges for college students. We have lost the ability to fully engage with our classes in a classroom setting, besides a few in person classes. Online classes require a lot more responsibility and motivation, which is hard to find among a rise in mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic. Another effect of the virus is financial issues, causing some students to have to take up work—where they may face the additional anxiety of potential exposure to the virus— or work more in order to afford necessities.
On the morning of Feb. 16, the university announced that the University Faculty Council (UFC) decided that the alternative grading scale will not be available to students in spring 2021. This email acknowledges increased challenges for students due to the pandemic, such as “inequities in access to technology and online learning proficiency” and “household challenges.” Though these challenges are acknowledged, the decision was still made for the alternative grading scale to not be extended.
One of the reasons given for the lack of extension of the grading scale was potential loss of financial aid, which is confusing, because to our knowledge that is up to the school. It also
cites the opinion of only one student representative, who did not speak in support of the alternative grading scale. The opinion of just one student should absolutely not be the only student voice heard in a decision that drastically affects all of us. Likewise, it was inappropriate to place the blame for an unpopular decision on the shoulders of the student representative.
The email also argues that using alternate grading will hurt students’ future job and graduate school opportunities by making their transcripts less competitive. The decision to use alternate grading is not taken lightly by students, and they understand the implications it may have in the future. Regardless, these decisions affect students and their futures, not the university, and students deserve the opportunity to choose alternate grading if it is best for them.
On the morning of Feb. 17, the SGA sent another email with a link to a SGA survey about alternative grading, to be referenced in an emergency “Can We Talk” meeting on Thursday, the Feb. 18. It’s clear from the email that the SGA was unaware the decision was happening: student government leaders were unable to do their jobs to represent the wishes of the student body. Students, including SGA members, should have been consulted before this decision was announced, because we all have different experiences and are affected by the pandemic differently.
The conditions that warranted the initial decision to allow the alternative grading scale are very much still in place. Many students are dealing with grief, poor mental health and added financial stress. Students who have ordinarily excelled in their classes may see their grades plummet. It’s the school’s job to provide compassion and understanding — always, but especially right now. The decision to not continue the alternative grading scale into the spring 2021 semester will impact all UMW students, and more of our voices should have been heard before such a drastic conclusion was reached in the midst of a global pandemic.