State representatives zoom meeting

Students joined 10 state Representatives on a Zoom meeting. (Photo/Samantha Perez)

University of Georgia student Candler Jones has been staying at home to help her family as her mother battles cancer.

She said she is the only member of her family healthy enough to leave the house during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between caring for her family and navigating online classes, she said she doesn’t want her hardships to affect her grades.

Jones told her story to 10 state representatives at a Zoom meeting Tuesday. While transitioning to online learning presents its own struggles, Jones said she has been “disproportionately affected” because of a learning disability. She said taking classes from home has been difficult and she is not satisfied with the help she’s received from the UGA Disability Resource Center.

“I just feel as if the Board of Regents is not doing enough,” Jones said. “There are people at UGA and all around the nation who have it a lot worse than me, and I am still already struggling from the effects of it.”

Fourteen other students joined Jones in relaying their hardships to the state representatives to support their call to implement a pass/fail system for the spring semester. The students argued that limited and varying access to resources left them on unequal footing and that students could lose scholarships if their grades drop during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Five of the state representatives present explicitly vowed to discuss implementing a pass/fail system with the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. The deadline to submit final grades at UGA is May 11 at noon.

A spokesperson for USG announced that it would not implement a pass/fail system on March 30.

“In times of adversity, we should reach higher, not lower,” the statement read.

In response to this statement, Matthew Hall, a third year law student at UGA, expressed his frustration during the Zoom meeting.

“I think we should reach higher,” Hall said. “We should reach higher to be more like Harvard and Yale and Duke and Columbia and Georgetown and all the best schools in the country that have moved to pass/fail.”

The meeting was livestreamed on One Georgia for Everyone’s Facebook page, which was created as a forum for college students to discuss a pass/fail system. State Rep. David Wilkerson hosted the group and facilitated discussion. Briana Hayes, a UGA junior and the organizer of the group USG Students 4 Grade Reform, led students in sharing their stories.

Despite petitions from undergraduate and law school students at UGA and other universities across the state, USG has not changed its plan.

UGA supports the university system’s decision to keep the current grading structure for the semester, said Greg Trevor, UGA spokesperson, in a statement on April 20.

“We trust our faculty to assess the performance of their students, as they always have, on work performed before and after our temporary closure,” Trevor said in the statement.

USG Students 4 Grade Reform formed to petition the Board of Regents to reconsider its decision. Ciera Thomas, an organizer and a senator in the UGA Student Government Association, said the group consists of students from every USG institution across the state.

This pass/fail grading system would allow students to choose whether they receive a pass or fail mark on their transcript instead of a traditional A-F grade.

“This is not a cry for leniency. This is a cry to help students who have been working for over a month trying to get internet access,” said Nida Merchant, a political science major at Georgia State.

Max Harris, a UGA student from Marietta, said the coalition formed after students saw not everyone was experiencing distance learning the same way.

“Some of us had adequate internet access as you've heard. Some waited eight hours to download lectures. Some of us had stable economic situations. Some of us lost our jobs and were left waiting for government stimulus money that still hasn't arrived,” Harris said. “Some of us are healthy, and some of us are watching as their loved ones battle a deadly virus all while trying not just to complete coursework but to excel in it.”

After hearing the students share their concerns, some of the Georgia representatives in attendance vowed to discuss the issue with the Board of Regents.

“I just want them to know from me that we’re going to do everything that we can in our power to have this conversation with the University System to find out how quickly can we get a pass/fail system in place because this has really touched my heart,” said state Rep. Sandra Scott.

Scott’s feelings were shared among other representatives, who took turns thanking the students for their efforts. State Rep. Michele Henson said she understands that people are struggling with different levels of access to internet broadband and expressed her desire to ensure broadband soon becomes available to students everywhere.

“In the meanwhile, my heart breaks for you and the stories you’ve told us,” Henson said. “I feel it’s so wrong on the part of our regent system to not allow for an opt-in pass/fail.”

Reps. Wilkerson, Scott, Henson, Kausche and Schofield explicitly expressed support for the pass/fail grade implementation.

Hayes said she felt good after the meeting, which was a culmination of nearly a month of work.

“I felt like for the first time someone listened to us,” Hayes said. “We are trying to get ahold of the Board of Regents, and they are not answering our calls.”