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In a normal spring semester, we get spring break. This year, we get five “sprinkle” days instead — random weekdays dispersed throughout the semester on which no class occurs and no assignments can be due. The idea is to give Rice students their well-deserved days off without encouraging unnecessary travel. As Christopher Johns-Krull of the Academic Restart Committee wrote to course instructors, “it is intended that, to the extent possible, these be real breaks for students and instructors.”
February is Black History Month, which for the Rice community means it’s an especially fitting time to reflect on the history of Black students on campus. William Marsh Rice’s original charter for the school excluded non-white students, and ever since the first Black undergraduates were admitted in 1965, the Black student community at Rice has made significant contributions to campus while simultaneously facing continued discrimination and racism.
Mutual aid networks have cropped up around the world throughout the last year as a response to the pandemic. The concept, which is not a new one, is fairly simple — a community voluntarily shares and receives resources and services among one another, monetary or otherwise, with the goal of making the whole community stronger. Still, it’s radical, especially in a country that encourages individualism, capitalism, and a ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality — an expression that, by the way, is nonsense.
To say “be safe” or “be responsible” over the break leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Let’s be absolutely clear: This wave of the pandemic is worse than we’ve ever seen, with cases of and hospitalizations for the coronavirus breaking records every single day. Most of the hometowns we’re returning to are not enforcing sufficient restrictions to mitigate the spread, and if you’re staying at Rice, Harris County certainly is not either. It’s time for us to rethink our new normal in the context of the worsening outbreak.
After three and a half excruciatingly long days, the race for president was called for Joe Biden on Saturday morning by the Associated Press and other major media organizations. This was a historic moment, as Kamala Harris is poised to become the first woman, the first Black person and the first South Asian person to hold the office of vice president.
This week is hard. The timeline and stakes of this election are unlike any before, and it is likely we will not know the results on election night. Because of delays in vote counting — due to the increase in mail-in ballots and early voting, or the possibility of a losing candidate contesting the results — the election results will likely not be finalized before Wednesday, when students are expected back in class. Many students will spend the upcoming days glued to their screens, watching states blink red or blue, and worrying about what happens post-election.
Texas has continuously shattered voter turnout records since early voting started in the state on Oct. 13. Through Monday, Oct. 26, after 14 days of early voting, 7,802,505 people had cast their ballots in Texas. That is almost 50 percent of the total number of registered voters in the state. For reference, around 8.5 million votes were cast in Texas in 2016 in total — this number includes ballots cast through the entire early voting period and on election day.
The Faculty Senate recently presented their proposed changes to the pass/fail policy, which include changing the threshold grade for pass to a C, preventing students from recycling the four allotted pass/fail designations and preventing a pass/fail from being converted to a letter grade after the deadline, even for classes that later become major requirements after the major is declared. The proposed changes to the pass/fail policy do not serve to ameliorate students’ academic integrity or academic performance, but rather unnecessarily limit flexibility and discourage intellectual curiosity and exploration.
When the massive tents known as Provisional Campus Facilities were first constructed on the Rice campus, the South college courtyard suddenly looked a bit alien — a literal sign of the times. Those once foreboding white tents have since been transformed, however, into canvases for compelling visual art, and the once downtrodden courtyard surrounding them into a colorful playground, thanks to the Moody Center for the Arts’ “Creative Interventions” initiative. This project has combined creativity and innovation from students and professional artists alike to give us all an opportunity to celebrate everything that makes our Rice and Houston communities special as we collectively struggle with uncertainty.
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.
At the beginning of the semester, we wrote about our skepticism with the administration’s reopening plan. The plan has proven to be successful so far — we have been able to keep our COVID-19 case count low, especially in comparison to many other universities across the country. Our case numbers may reflect the administration’s thorough planning, but they also reflect the caution and cooperation that everyone on campus has exercised over the past six weeks. Things seem to be going well, so we implore everyone at Rice: don’t let up now.
Rice administration has yet to publicly respond to the demonstrations to remove Willy’s statue that began in the academic quad three weeks ago. Shifa Rahman, the first student to begin protesting regularly and primary organizer of the sit-ins, says administration has not reached out to address the situation in a private fashion either. As more students join the “Down with Willy” cause, pressure is mounting for the administration to respond. Why have they stayed silent for so long?
This March, when students across campus received an email announcement that classes were shifted to a remote format for the rest of the semester, many of us had one preliminary concern: How will we move out of our dorms? With piles of personal belongings remaining in empty dorms, the job of packing and moving boxes was relegated to students, most of whom did the job without pay. In an interview for an article in our features section this week, one student said he spent approximately 75 hours on the task.
Voting may be a constitutionally guaranteed right for most American citizens over the age of 18, but that right is infringed upon year after year by voter suppression tactics employed by legislators across the country. This November, that infringement is poised to be only more severe due to the ongoing pandemic and President Donald Trump’s consistent undermining of the United States Postal Service. Although the grim reality is that most voter suppression tactics are out of an individual voter’s control, there are some steps you can take to protect your vote.
On a typical morning this fall, on-campus students might drop by the servery for breakfast on the way to a class and pass contracted construction workers building the new Sid Richardson College dorms. We take weekly COVID-19 tests at centers staffed with volunteers, attend classes led by professors with little to no prior experience in online instruction and receive emails from student leaders who have had to take on enormous responsibilities beyond their job descriptions. Behind our daily actions are hundreds of people working hard and going above and beyond to ensure that we can maintain a semblance of normality in our college experience.
When you visit return.rice.edu, the university’s online hub for information about reopening plans, you’re redirected to coronavirus.rice.edu. It’s a seemingly harmless swap — “return” becomes “coronavirus” — but one that is indicative of the two incompatible narratives the administration has been feeding its students, staff and faculty. The first is a shiny campaign about how much we’ve all missed campus, how ecstatic we are to return to something familiar and how we will all persevere, together, through these tough times. The second is the story of a global pandemic that has fatally attacked Houston, the country and the world, one that requires taking extreme precautions and punishing those who don’t.
On July 1, Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman sent an email detailing Rice University’s fall semester plans to the undergraduate student body. However, this email — like the previous emails updating students on fall plans — had a caveat: these plans could be subject to change, depending on the evolving coronavirus situation in Houston.
On June 19, an anonymous group of Black students released a list of demands for the administration called “Tangible Ways to Improve the Black Experience, as Demanded by Black Students: Inaction is Not an Option.” The six-page document was circulated widely by current students and alumni on social media, and went on to catch the attention of Fox News, who ran a biased story on the demands that was riddled with inaccuracies, including the false claim that the group behind the demands was associated with the Black Student Association. The story, which incorrectly named certain students as leaders of BSA, led hundreds of people to flood the organization’s Instagram and email with racist criticisms — some of them containing racial slurs.
In case the massive fences and mud pits did not make the fact obvious, Rice is undergoing a surge of construction. But beyond the large-scale additions of the pavilion, new power plant and two new colleges, there are also subtler improvements in campus life — notably, replacing and upgrading the emergency phone system.
The Jones Graduate School of Management proposed a doctoral program in management to the Graduate Council last semester. While we greatly applaud this step of increasing research on campus, we have a big reservation about the courses associated with the doctorate.