In a petition filed on the for-profit website Change.org, Mihret Haile, a student at the UW, demanded academic accommodation for UW’s black students, noting that the current situation regarding the riots – coupled with the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic – is severely affecting the university’s black student population. But somehow, even though whites are the targets of the racist bigotry and riots in America, white students are not considered to be affected in any way.
“Give Black students a break! We are already DISPROPORTIONATELY impacted by this pandemic in terms of health care access and financial hardship. Now add state-sanctioned violence, how do you expect us to enter finals in this headspace?!” Haile said in her petition.
Haile’s petition, which has since drawn 59,984 signatures, came after UW President Ana Mari Cauce aired out a message for the university’s students, wherein she talked about how the university will address alleged issues regarding equity, racism and bias.
According to Haile, that is not enough.
“We are tired of empty words and promises. We are tired of sentimental emails that do not materialize. Give us equitable responses that meet our needs now,” Haile said, adding that the university needs to encourage – if not demand – that professors accommodate their black students.
“If UW truly understands our pain, UW will be a part of alleviating it,” Haile said.
Among the demands that Haile put in her petition are changes to the university’s final grading policies.
In an email addressed to UW President Cauce, Alejandra Puerto and several other students noted that final exams and assignments for the rest of quarters must be canceled since their results – given the current climate – “would not be a true reflection of many students’ capabilities.”
In addition, the students also demanded that no failing grades be issued and that increased leniency in the Satisfactory/Not Satisfactory (S/NS) grading option be observed.
The university – or at least some of its faculty – has complied with the students’ demands.
According to Nicole McNichols, a psychology professor at UW, she has decided to make some changes to her grading structure, noting that in addition to canceling all assignments for the rest of the quarter, she is also awarding full points to all of her students, as well as giving all of them the option to drop their lowest exam score if they wanted to.
Victor Balta, a university spokesperson, said the faculty senate is now looking at a proposal that will allow any S grades earned this quarter to count toward degree and graduation requirements.
According to Balta, confirmation of the motion’s approval will be sent to enrolled students come June 17.
Balta also sent out a message to all university instructors asking them to be more considerate to their students in these times. Balta, in his message, noted that while UW is, by nature, a community, some are “being affected more than others.”
Not everyone in academe agrees with the points raised in these student-led petitions, however.
David Brooks, a commentator and conservative political pundit, for instance, noted in a column in the New York Times that “coddling” students by inflating their grades and being lenient has gone “too far” — even in the face of a global pandemic. (Related: Anti-white racism is becoming blatant on college campuses.)
“The virus is another reminder that hardship is woven into the warp and woof of existence. Training a young person is training her or him to master hardship, to endure suffering and, by building something new from the wreckage, redeem it,” Brooks said in his column, where he describes the current propensity of academic institutions to be “forgiving” as a symptom of the “safety-ism” that has crept into American society.
Another academic who aired dissent against similar motions is Gordon Klein, a lecturer in accounting at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
In a report by Business Insider, Klein reportedly rejected a request by his students who were asking for leniency in their class in light of the recent riots and protests occurring across the country.
According to reports, Klein responded sarcastically to the students’ request, thanking the sender for suggesting that he bestow “special treatment” to his black students.
“Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we've been having online classes only? Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them?” Klein said in the email, which has since been leaked to the public.
According to Klein, who has since been put on administrative leave by UCLA for his allegedly “racist” response, he was only following his direct supervisor’s orders when he denied the request, adding that he has extended and even eliminated final exams in the past due to “extraordinary circumstances.”