We at the Collegian are pleased to see the faculty’s decision to extend the Pass/D/Fail deadline from six weeks to eight weeks. Not only does this change acknowledge that the pandemic poses challenges for students’ academic success, but it embraces the notion that a liberal arts education creates space for students to take risks and try new things.
That said, we believe that this extension does not go far enough, and opens the floor for further discussion of grades as a whole: As students complete their coursework this semester from bedrooms, basements and dining room tables around the globe, we urge the College to again adopt a universal Pass/Fail, with the option to reveal grades at the end of the semester.
With roughly half of the student body continuing to take their courses online, the College should keep in place the same standards it had when all students were studying remotely. Even students who are currently on campus struggle with the varying and taxing effects of living in a pandemic. It does not make sense for Kenyon to change this policy when the circumstances that precipitated it remain.
We recognize that the College made last semester’s policy to consider the abrupt shift in circumstances, and that students were not functioning under normal conditions. While the desire to reinstate a sense of normalcy on the Hill is admirable, there’s no getting around the fact that nothing about our current predicament is normal. It is true that, unlike last semester, professors have had ample time to make the necessary adjustments to their syllabi to reflect students’ altered circumstances. However, students were not prepared for another semester of online learning — quite frankly, how could we ever be?
Furthermore, being off campus doesn’t just mean being separated from friends and peers — it also means that most students have a variety of additional responsibilities, from basic household chores to caring for sick family members to working jobs with a high risk of exposure.
The pandemic has upturned all of our lives, and the increased responsibilities that some of us face at home are not all that worry us. Whether on campus or off, all students are struggling with feelings of loneliness and, frankly, it makes it difficult to live a healthy lifestyle. This prevailing sense of solitude is one experience all students, on and off campus, can identify with.
While the College had been helpful to students who lack the resources for remote learning, these efforts cannot account for the vast inequities, particularly in socioeconomic status, that limit students’ ability to succeed both on and off campus. As the economy crashes and unemployment rates continue to remain high, the College cannot act as if the game has not changed. While this economic downturn is new, inequity among students is not: The pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing inequities among students across higher education. If Kenyon really wants to help all of its students, adopting a universal Pass/Fail policy is the least it could do.
In addition, a discussion of grading policies is not complete without consideration for how it impacts those with disabilities and mental illnesses. The unpredictable and unsettling world of COVID-19 is a nightmare for those with conditions such as anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, remote learning — and the hoops it forces us to jump through — compounds the challenges of the disabled. No student should feel they have to prioritize their coursework over their mental or physical health, and the College cannot truthfully guarantee that they won’t have to unless, at the very least, they adopt a universal P/F system at this time.
The fact that systemic inequities have been exacerbated by the pandemic should be reason enough for the College to change its grading system to P/F for this semester. Taken together with the feelings of isolation, frustrations of online learning and the constant uncertainty we are all facing in the wake of COVID-19, the evidence is overwhelming: Students do not merely desire a P/F system this fall — we need it. In its failure to adopt this policy, the College is both complicating and ignoring the simple fact that — for faculty and students alike —the pandemic has changed life as we know it on and off the Hill.
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Mae Hunt ’21 and Evey Weisblat ’21, managing editor Sophie Krichevsky ’21 and executive director Elizabeth Stanley ’21. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.