Dear University of Georgia Professors,
As we transition into online courses for the remainder of the semester, I strongly encourage you all to reconsider your course expectations through a lens of equity and anti-discrimination. This is always an important practice, but it takes on a special urgency now as students’ lives are being uprooted.
Classism is always an issue for college students, but especially now, as millions of Americans lose their jobs and their health insurance, its worst aspects are being exposed. Please consider the stress and trauma many of your students are trying to balance on top of their online classes for the remainder of this semester.
What stress and trauma is the COVID-19 pandemic causing your students? Here are a few examples:
- Students are working long shifts in a stressful environment as they worry about the health and safety of their communities as well as for themselves.
- Students are stuck at their parents’ homes in potentially abusive or difficult living situations.
- Students are sick. Even if not with COVID-19, the health care system is already beginning to be overwhelmed. Students also often avoid seeking medical help for financial reasons.
- Students are stressed as they try to sort through their own uncertain housing/living situations.
- Students are in different time zones as many have left campus.
- Students are caring for loved ones such as parents, grandparents, younger siblings or friends. They may be caring for their health, grocery shopping for them, trying to keep them isolated, helping homeschool or babysit or providing a place to stay for a friend who cannot make their rent. According to NBC, the freeze on foreclosures and evictions that President Donald Trump announced in March will affect over 8 million federally-backed mortgages. In comparison, Pew Research Center estimated that there were over 43 million rental households in the United States in 2016.
According to an article published by The New York Times, about half of all students at community and public colleges in the United States struggled with food insecurity before this pandemic struck. Please consider the challenges students were already facing and how those are likely increasing in these uncertain times. To be sensitive of the trauma your students may be facing, it is your responsibility as educators to consider the following equitable guidelines for your online class structures.
- Provide asynchronous class structure. Mandating that students be present at a certain hour to receive any form of credit is discriminatory toward students who may be working irregular hours or caring for loved ones.
- Remove items from your syllabus. Online classes are not any easier for students especially given the circumstances. You do not need to make up for lost in-person class time with additional challenges.
- Curve the grades! Only students with a certain level of access to privilege will be able to give their absolute best academic work during this time. With many University System of Georgia students advocating (to no avail thus far) for an opt-in pass/fail grading system, professors can take it upon themselves to give student grades a boost.
While the USG may not require professors to adhere to all best practices during this transition to online classes, professors have the power to employ best practices within their own courses. These suggestions alone will still not be adequate to support all UGA students, but at the very least it will reduce the discrimination and inequity that you personally are pushing onto your students.