Get RPI Sophomores Back on Campus

Get RPI Sophomores Back on Campus

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Colette Fishkin started this petition to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

We, the students of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, demand our voices be heard and considered in regard to the return to campus plan for the 2020-2021 school year. RPI is built on its slogan “Why not change the world?”. How are we supposed to change the world when our school, the same institute using this slogan, puts up roadblocks against us, inhibiting us from reaching our utmost potential. RPI’s return to campus plan for the 2020-2021 school year makes it so the class of 2023 will only have one full year on campus with their entire class. This course of action not only strips us of time with our peers, but also severely diminishes our opportunity to collaborate and uncover new ideas together, discuss and gain new perspectives, access RPI’s resources necessary to complete our work, gain maximum knowledge and overall, decreases our opportunities to make world-changing ideas into a reality. This is not the education that we agreed to when we accepted our admission to RPI.

Forcing sophomores to become remote students for an entire academic year is not effective, and will have extreme repercussions on the students forced to learn remotely. We understand that Coronavirus is very serious and it is necessary to take drastic measures to protect the health of the RPI community. However, with the proposed plan, up to ~85% of the school population will still be on campus, including athletic exceptions and students who can appeal due to unusual circumstances.  This plan cripples the sophomores’ ability to succeed while marginally achieving its intended goal. With all of the other measures RPI is taking, (school-wide testing, mask requirements, social distancing, smaller classes, larger classes online, shorter fall semester, adjusted dining and housing/dorm capacities) a population of 15% more students would not severely influence the possibility of COVID contraction or spread. If the RPI faculty is confident enough to adequately handle 85% of its student population, thousands of students, and keep them healthy, what difference can a few hundred students make? 

If you still feel that it is necessary to de-densify, we, the students, would like to propose an alternate plan that would  help reduce the student population. RPI could send out a survey that asked if any students (in the freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior classes) would prefer to stay home for the fall semester of 2020 and take online classes in order to save money on room, board and other living expenses and minimize their risk of COVID exposure. The survey will have a clear deadline so that final numbers of on-campus students and remote students will be available to the school with adequate time to plan. Since juniors have the option of staying home if they feel uncomfortable, this should be the case for any other class, including the sophomores. It is highly likely that a significant number of students would willingly take this offer, and would allow all students to choose what educational option would work specifically for them. This number of students willingly staying home might even exceed the amount of sophomores currently being forced to stay home. New York University (nearby but with an even larger student population and COVID-affected area) will be allowing all students to return to campus with the option of remote learning from home for those who would prefer that, similar to the plan proposed above. Cornell has ten options planned out for their students. One option states that all students can be invited back to campus, with most classes online, and dining halls open. If NYU and Cornell can open up their campus to all students, so can RPI. 

We, as RPI students, value our education. If RPI chooses to go through with their plan of refusing to allow sophomores back on campus, we will be forced to make some very difficult decisions to protect ourselves and our education. Some sophomores are considering whether it is worth it to pay RPI’s tuition if they are getting their education at home and online, as opposed to in person. It is unacceptable that we are being asked to pay the same tuition as other students who get the benefit of in-person classes and office hours, and have access to RPIs facilities including but not limited to laboratories, tech centers, libraries, and performance halls. Some of our classmates do not have access to reliable internet, a quiet place to study, the ability to listen in on classes, or take tests at their homes. RPI is isolating remote students from their peers, making it more difficult to study and collaborate with one another.  Other students have already decided or are strongly considering transferring or taking a gap year/semester off. This prolongs their academic careers and impedes them from graduating with their class. We understand that RPI is suffering financially during this time, but so are the students attending as well as their families. If we cannot expect a tuition reduction, we expect to be back on campus, or at least have it as an option. Some of our peers from other graduating classes attending the same curriculum will receive unfair advantages in the form of on campus tutoring, teaching, office hours, labs, etc. While we recognize that remote students will be provided with substitutes, it is once again unacceptable that RPI is requiring sophomores to pay the same amount for virtual and inferior resources. Some resources like lab work cannot be done at homes due to lack of equipment. This puts us in direct disadvantage with some of our classmates. Why pay thousands of dollars for online education, as opposed to hundreds at another institute for the same education with an equal playing field for all students? These decisions will directly impact our future, but unfortunately we are left with few options, without our needs considered, and many avenues unexplored.

The students at RPI contribute greatly to its prosperity.  Through the positions we hold in clubs, collaboration with professors in research, and initiatives in our campus community, we help drive the institution to advance as a whole. Last year, we became RPI’s “strongest academic incoming class on record.”  We would not want our academic potential inhibited due to the lack of vital campus resources that will be provided to all but the sophomore class. In addition, our diverse perspectives, which are some of our greatest assets, bring upon new experiences in learning. Having us on campus will not only allow us to advance in our future careers, but allow us to contribute to the learning of others in the academic realm and beyond. 

We want to return to campus, learn as much as we can, collaborate, and use RPI’s resources for success. We strongly feel that RPI is silencing us and is not acknowledging our needs. Rensselaer has a past of student censorship, so we are asking you to please prove to us that RPI does not embody this notoriety and that you care about our input and experience. This is not the reputation we want for our school, so RPI, we are asking you to please listen. We believe that RPI is trying to accommodate the students, but we need to be accounted for in decisions regarding our livelihoods. Your students' voices matter. We want to work with you as a community to make this a plan that works for all. Thank you.

Signed,

Colette Fishkin, Talia Wiesel, Tasnim Naina, Cole Feuer, Aliana Wilson, Fiona Clarke, Lannea Martinez, Emily Berkemeyer, Lael Kutame

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