Students are in need of clarity and comfort, not confusion

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At 3:29 p.m. on May 19, I was sitting at my kitchen table writing my REL 200 final paper. I then received a text message from my friend saying, “it’s out,” at which point I scrambled over to my email and, with a racing heart, panic-read the news. 

I recognize that this kind of a decision is unimaginably difficult to make, from all angles. We are all working off of zero precedent. From a logical perspective I can infer what the intention behind this decision may have been. These are just my guesses. For one, surely faculty will not want to have to adapt to a completely different academic structure (read: a quarter system, a trimester system, or a three-semester system). Secondly, if we’re online in the fall, now students won’t have to be forced to take four classes in a remote setting. And if we’re back at school, students will be given more flexibility to process their trauma from the last year, the freedom to pursue the College’s non-academic resources and opportunities and the chance to make up for lost time. 

With that said, I am perplexed about this decision. Before addressing the content, there are two other things worth mentioning. Many of us have spent the last two months grieving an endless variety of losses, small or large, tiny or colossal. We have been forced to ask ourselves heavy questions about what our lives may look like tomorrow, next week, next year. We have had to make some pretty difficult decisions and sacrifices, all as the rest of spring semester continued to go by. The decision about next year was sent out during exam week, while I sat hunched over my textbooks and computer screen already stressed and in disbelief that this is how we were finishing out our year: sitting at home, scouring old notes, clicking submit buttons and feeling pretty empty. It wasn’t the greatest timing.

Also, up to this point, the general transparency with which the administration had been communicating with the students felt reassuring. The five-option academic planning memo was made available to the public, and when President Maud S. Mandel began to consider either a trimester or three semester system, information about that was conveyed as well. It was difficult, at least for me, to then receive an email with an outline that didn’t resemble any of the seven options we had been given the time to consider.

While I can get my head around some of the reasoning for changing class requirements and cancelling Winter Study, there are still some confusing parts. Reducing minimum enrollment seems fine in theory if we don’t consider the possible inequity that this might introduce. Those with the means to continue with the same workload will do so, and those who do not may be forced to drop their electives. Even if graduation and major requirements are changed as a result of the four to three shift, which as of now we cannot confirm, that won’t change the requirements of graduate programs for which rising juniors and seniors are preparing applications.

I know that the administration is doing its best to juggle a lot of factors, and given their previous great track record with handling this crisis, I expected the decision to include something that in some way reassured students. I felt hopeful reading about the possibilities of a restructured Winter Study and a delayed reopening, or a quarter system where, possibly, only 6 weeks of our year might be spent online. These considerations made me confident that the administration cared very deeply about not sticking us with remote learning for an entire semester, as a substantial majority of us would heavily consider withdrawing if that were the case. The email we received made it seem as if an entire semester of remote learning was completely plausible and possibly also being catered to, given the minimum enrollment change. 

The bottom line: I felt like I had some level of control, at least over how I reacted, when we knew what was being considered. Now, I feel as if the administration may have been too quick to reject other options.

Aliya Klein ’22 is from Potomac, Md.