Let Yara Banna transfer and graduate from AUB
Let Yara Banna transfer and graduate from AUB
AUB is not letting Yara Banna graduate. She has been in university for 5 years and instead of leaving with a degree this semester, she’s leaving it with a massive financial debt and no job opportunities because of bureaucracy, institutionalized discrimination, and the absence of adequate mental health support at the university.
As a group of friends and colleagues, we urge you to SIGN THE PETITION to help pressure the AUB administration to reconsider her case:
To the AUB community,
I was supposed to graduate this semester, Spring 2020, but am being hampered and obstructed by the bureaucracy, institutionalized discrimination, and absence of mental health support present at the American University of Beirut.
The University prides itself on leading students from hardship to empowerment, providing them with essential opportunities to become actively-engaged community leaders with a sense of civic responsibility. In the past five years, I have lived a different reality. I leave AUB without a degree and with huge financial debt after being denied a necessary transfer because of the unfair application of overall GPA requirements that had changed after I joined university.
The story goes as follows:
I proudly joined AUB in 2015, doing two years of biology pre-med. In those two years, my mental health began to deteriorate as a result of both the extremely hostile and competitive –rather than productive and collaborative– nature of the field and the discovery that biology was not actually my area of interest.
In the spring semester of my second year, I decided to transfer to psychology. I met all the requirements. I went to the faculty dean’s office to ask about the process of transferring from one major to the other, and was told that I cannot apply for transfer in the spring semester but that I had to wait until next fall.
The mentioned fall semester is when the change of requirements to join the major became effective, including increasing the required overall GPA from 70 to 75. I still met all the requirements, except the overall GPA. I was told that I need to take psychology courses until I could raise my overall GPA and be able to join the major.
I did however meet the overall GPA requirement that had been set the year I joined AUB. While changes to transfer requirements should apply to new and future students, they should not be sweeping changes that apply to old students who joined AUB under different premises and with different expectations. A five point grade change, from 70 to 75, is not a small change. And it certainly is no easy task for students struggling with mental health issues.
My mental health kept on getting worse. I was seeing a psychologist at the AUB Counselling Center, where I was referred to the AUBMC Psychiatry Department. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety, with my psychiatrist putting me on medication. The medication did not help either, and my case progressively worsened.
In the spring semester of my third year, I couldn't get any psychology classes. The psychology department is understaffed, has too many students, and too little class capacity. The department would not open capacity for me since I was not technically a psychology student. I went to the dean’s office and asked for help, solutions, or alternatives but nobody seemed to know what I was supposed to do. If anything lies at the heart of the American University of Beirut, it most certainly is excessively complicated and often unfruitful administrative procedures.
That semester, I finished all my general education courses and repeated one of my pre-med courses in hopes it would raise my GPA, but repeating the course took me back to a very bad place, and I couldn’t raise the course grade by much.
At the end of the spring semester, I still couldn’t transfer into the department. The psychology department had, ironically, not been understanding of the fundamental effect of my mental health on my GPA and on my ability to do better on previous courses I had taken.
I had to ask for greater help, so I wrote an email to the dean of my faculty explaining my case, asking for help, and hoping for a meeting. No one replied.
Because of that lack of support from the dean’s office and the lack of cooperation from the psychology department, I had to take a gap semester in the spring semester of my fourth year. I only had 6 courses left to graduate back then.
Before the start of the fall semester of my fifth year (Fall 2019), I went to every single person who could possibly help me. I saw my adviser, the chairperson of the department, the registrar, members of the admission committee, even one of my psychology professors. I was given two choices: change the major or change universities.
I do not come from a wealthy family. My family has put everything we own on the line so I can get an education at AUB, one of the region’s finest academic institutions, and secure a decent future for myself. I am on financial aid, and I have taken a student loan. I cannot pull strings to have my transfer accepted or my course grades raised –and would not compromise my academic integrity in the first place. Now more than ever, we must reject corruption and nepotism in all sectors, including higher education in Lebanon.
Pursuing another major means staying at least 3 more semesters at AUB. My family cannot afford this, and my loan cannot cover this. Changing universities means that I will have to throw the past 4 years of my life out the window. Expecting me to be able to walk away without a degree from the American University of Beirut five years after beginning my academic journey reflects a line of thinking that is not grounded in reality.
At that point, I sent a very long email to the president and to the dean explaining my case in full detail. Because of that email, the associate dean asked to see me. He told me that he talked to the chairperson of the department and that the department is willing to give me 2 courses that semester. He told me I need to work hard to increase my overall GPA, and then I can transfer to the major and graduate in spring.
I did, in fact, work really hard. Despite the distracting political and economic situation in Lebanon, I was able to get an 82 as a semester average. This raised my overall GPA from 71 to 73.
The psychology department disregarded the massive effort I was making. This comes despite the fact that my GPA would have been 78.5 without taking into account the pre-med courses I had taken. Meanwhile, my GPA on core psychology courses stands at 75.4. Both these figures pass the required 75 for the transfer.
When I applied to transfer before the beginning of this spring semester, the chairperson of the psychology department still rejected it. I emailed the associate dean about it and asked for a meeting.
No one has the authority to accept my transfer except the chairperson.
For the past two weeks, I have been running around campus, writing emails, meeting with different people asking for help. The dean of student affairs was communicating with the chair. The issue was raised to the dean of my faculty, the president, and the provost.
The only decision regarding this is that of the chairperson, and apparently no one has a say over his final call. The key issue lies in his rejection of the transfer –which means I cannot take the remaining necessary courses– and the inability or unwillingness of anyone else in the administration to help with that.
Towards the end of drop and add, everyone I had been reaching out to suddenly became out of reach. I couldn’t meet with the associate dean anymore. I asked to meet with the provost, and I wasn’t even granted that.
My mother even came in person to try to figure things out, and no concrete help was given to us. I only need to take 4 more courses to graduate. I used up all my student loan, and cannot afford to start over again. Because my graduation was delayed so much, I have to pay my student loan over the span of 8 years instead of 10 –making the monthly payment significantly higher. As soon as I leave AUB, I will have to start working to pay for that loan.
In light of the ongoing economic crisis and rising unemployment rates in Lebanon, it will be nearly impossible to find a job. My parents are also now unemployed because of the economic crisis, and we do not have a stable income.
I have been tutoring part-time for the past 5 years to help with my family’s finances. I took jobs every single summer. My sister graduates school this year, and is expected to enroll in university this fall. I am the one expected to help finance her education. For her sake and mine, I hope her heart does not lead her to AUB.
I write this after having exhausted all other options. I write this hoping that the administration of the American University of Beirut will uphold its appreciation and encouragement of the freedom of thought and expression.
Rather than reprimand me for boldly speaking out, I hope AUB will allow me to graduate. Students are more than just numbers in a system. I believe, despite all the mental and economic hurdles in my way, that I have demonstrated my commitment to the core values that AUB prides itself on: resilience, integrity, a sense of duty towards my community, and the voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge.
Without this transfer, I cannot graduate. Without this degree, I cannot continue down the career path I believe I should be on.
I hope that the American University of Beirut can lead the country by example: When your community leaders support you and work for your well-being, you may one day support others. I ask that AUB understands what me, and all similar students, are going through. I am calling out for support, and the recognition that I have come out stronger and wiser from the hardships I have endured. I want to transfer, to continue to improve my grades, and finally graduate.