The pandemic hasn’t gone away. Neither should academic accommodations.
There are so many ways in which this semester is unlike any semester before. We’ve heard this said a million times in a million different ways. Every media outlet from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal has written about how the pandemic has changed higher education. And yet, amid people constantly admitting that this year is different, one thing has remained the same: academic expectations.
Many professors continue to require synchronous attendance in class, even as students face a growing number of obstacles toward regular attendance. Unlike last semester, there’s no word from administrators about whether a modified pass/fail policy is even on the table. Apart from taking classes almost entirely on a screen, students are expected to treat this semester the same as previous semesters.
The problems that students faced last semester remain. Families have been crushed financially by pandemic job losses, emotionally by COVID-19 deaths and physically by the effects of the disease. The mental health toll of the pandemic is unquestionable. Not only have these problems persisted, but they continue to grow as the pandemic continues. The only difference between last semester and this semester is that students have had time to “adjust” to these new, devastating circumstances. However, the circumstances of the pandemic continue to change; thus, the process of adjusting is not linear and has not ended. Even then, there’s only so much adjusting students can do in a pandemic.
Moreover, new concerns continue to pop up for students. How do seniors stay motivated while applying for jobs in an abysmal job market? How can students keep up as mental health struggles continue to accumulate?
For students facing this stress: Please know that it’s okay to do what you need to get by. Thinking of dropping a class? Barely passing a class? Totally normal and fully acceptable — especially during a global pandemic. As Rice students, we might feel naturally inclined to try to overachieve despite the circumstances, and might feel like imposters when we don’t, but the state of our mental health is unquestionably more important than how many hours we’re taking. If you need to take measures to protect your wellbeing, keep in mind that as of now, drop deadline is this Friday, Oct. 9, and Friday, Oct. 30 is the last day you can declare a class pass/fail.
Still, students can’t cope with the academic stresses of the pandemic alone. Professors, we ask you to be flexible with your students — with grading policies, attendance policies and everything else. Flexibility and understanding shouldn’t end with modified syllabi; communication between you and your students should remain open and fluid, especially during midterm and finals seasons that present significant new and unique challenges. Administrators, we need a direct answer as to whether we’ll get a modified pass/fail policy again. We need concrete moves for academic accommodations across the board. Last semester, we asked for this, and we’ll say it again: please go easy on us.
Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Rishab Ramapriyan, Ivanka Perez, Amy Qin, Elizabeth Hergert, Ella Feldman, Katelyn Landry, Rynd Morgan, Savannah Kuchar, Ben Baker-Katz, Simona Matovic and Tina Liu.
More from The Rice Thresher
The first wave of COVID-19 erupted in the U.S. in early 2020. Rice responded quickly: During March 9-15, classes for the week preceding Spring Break were canceled, students were instructed not to return to campus after Spring Break, and instruction after Spring Break was made fully remote. This quick reaction to the pandemic was typical of many organizations and localities all around the country, as it became clear that social distancing was then the only effective way to slow down the spread of the disease. This seems to have worked and, by early May, the first wave was somewhat subsiding. The Rice administration then tasked the Academic Restart Committee with the mission of “Return to Rice.”
To be sure, a poetic analogy between music and our differences will not resolve any issues directly. It can, however, remind us of our shared humanity. It can get us back in touch with our nature as social animals. It is a nature that is often oppressed by the individualism in our capitalistic society that encourages competition, putting too much focus on the dissonances for our own good.
I stumbled into the Thresher office as a freshman who was determined to go to medical school. Three years later, I’m stumbling out of the office, just as clumsily, as a senior who is pursuing design because of Thresher.