Pass/Fail Option for Fall 2020 Semester (Boston College)

Pass/Fail Option for Fall 2020 Semester (Boston College)

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We appreciate that Boston College has put in great effort to plan for an in-person fall semester with online and hybrid courses, continued athlete practices, and classroom and housing changes to ensure students’ safety and well-being. However, taking into consideration the wide range of challenges students and faculty face and are likely to encounter navigating through the fall semester, we ask the institution to give students the Pass/Fail option that still allows for credits to count toward their respective requirements. We believe that this is the appropriate action to ensure education equity, allow all students who wish to continue with their education remain enrolled, and achieve better social justice for our students of diverse backgrounds.

To evaluate all students with the same grading system under a much different campus atmosphere and altered education approach ignores the intersectional impact of students’ identities and experiences on their educational quality and outcome. Some of the foreseeable challenges, barriers, and institutional inequity that could be perpetuated by the pandemic and institution’s 2020 fall semester academic plan include but are not limited to:

  • COVID continues to affect students and their families, especially disproportionately hurting the Black and Brown communities as well as lower SES families. Some students and their families experience significant worry about those with immunocompromised conditions, struggle to make a living, experience loss and grief, and worry about having their needs met. It is ignorant to evaluate students under the same grading system when facing significant inequality and injustice perpetuated by the pandemic. It is also more challenging for many students to pursue intellectual growth and self-actualization when they are facing uncertainty, collective grief and trauma, and have other basic needs that are not being met.
    Many international students may face great difficulty and stress in returning to Boston College. Having the grading system for students taking classes in entirely different formats (online vs. in-person) under different family circumstances and/or in different time zones is challenging and unfair. It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on students and may make them feel as if they have to choose between their families, friends, communities, and countries and take the risk of not being able to receive the ideal education they wish shall they choose to travel now. Some students have to remain enrolled in school for visa and travel issues but have limited choices over their course options or formats. 
  • Students who have to work and support themselves, have field placement or practicum requirements, and have more exposure to the workplace might be exposed to higher risk of getting COVID and have greater chances of disrupted education due to symptoms and needing to quarantine/isolation. Students will experience greater concern for their health and safety, and may also experience increased stress, anxiety, or even trauma.
  • Students whose fall semester abroad programs are canceled now face extreme difficulty with course registration, housing, and the change in study abroad and their education plans. Many now have to fulfill their major, minor, or core requirements with very limited course openings after their programs were canceled. This can jeopardize their ability to defer their programs to next fall (as OIP offers), receive equal quality of education, or even meet the graduation criteria and graduate school application requirements. Providing a Pass/Fail option can reduce the restraints and impact on students’ rights as they now have very limited course choices due to the sudden program cancellation.
  • A second wave or COVID outbreak is possible and can further disrupt the semester. Some students remain concerned about the potential of having to frequently move around and live in unstable environments or even stressful and unsafe households that are not suitable for learning. 

Given the fact that we are all still half-way through the pandemic and many courses are irreplaceable with alternate curriculum structures and methods, we urge Boston College to allow the Pass/Fail option to best accommodate students and address the education inequity and injustice perpetuated by the pandemic. Similar to the Spring 2020 semester, we ask that the limit of number of pass/fail courses a student can declare be lifted, the pass/fail option continue to count toward their respective requirements (include major and core requirements), and extend the period to declare pass/fail to a month before final exams begin. The benefit of providing such an option significantly outweighs the risk. While students who feel comfortable and supported to continue with the grading policy can still choose to earn letter grades, others who experience barriers, challenges, and adversity can better be accommodated for the fall semester. This will potentially allow more students who do not wish or could not afford to have their education interrupted/deferred to remain registered (thereby reducing the likelihood of students taking a gap year). This will also allow students who have less course choices and are limited by life circumstances to continue pursuing their education. It also alleviates the risk of students’ difficulty in fulfilling major, minor, core requirements or graduation criteria, or have significant negative impact on their grades due to the health crises and subsequent social injustice issues. We recognize that letter grades are used to determine scholarship eligibility, so we propose that all letter grades also have a footnote that denotes that this grade was received during a major interruption to in-person instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, we urge the institution to invest in a better support system for students during this unprecedented time. A survey conducted by Active Minds, a mental-health advocacy organization with chapters on more than 550 college campuses (including one on Boston College), revealed that about 80% of the 2,086 college students reported that COVID-19 had 'negatively impacted' their mental health. We hope to see a more trauma-informed institution as we all navigate through the collective grief, loss, and trauma. The first step might be training all university staff, faculty, and first-responders (e.g. BCPD) in mental health first-aid, crisis de-escalation, anti-bias training, and trauma-informed care. Further, we encourage more fundings to support education equity programs and support services such as but not limited to the Thea Bowman AHANA Intercultural Center, Options Through Education, Learning to Learn, Montserrat Coalition, University Counseling Services, and Student Outreach and Support Services (which hosts LGBTQ+ support and Disability services). While many of the services will be hosted under the Pine Manor Institute for Student Success, we hope other services can receive more resources and greater administrative roles as well, such as recognising the Student Outreach and Support Services office with its own dean and the Disability Services and LGBTQ+ services with its own office and director reporting to this dean. We also encourage better awareness and access to services through existing and new initiatives such as UCS’s Connecting during COVID drop-in groups and Same Day consultation services that ease the point of contact regardless of students’ locations. 

Boston College is an institution that claims to foster “pursuit of a just society.” To truly achieve this vision, we need to aim for a more just and equitable education curriculum, especially during a time of pandemic. We should acknowledge and take action to support the vulnerable, those affected by institutional inequity, and those who are most affected by COVID. While the increase of support services is much needed, they are not enough to provide a just education and a supportive academic environment this fall semester. A Pass/Fail option can help achieve such education equity and allow many of our talented, dedicated students to thrive on the heights.

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