Open letter to UI Dean of Students: Guarantee a passing grade to all students

Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

By Tarweeh Osman, Iowa City

Dear Dean of Students,

Firstly, I would like to commend the University of Iowa and the office of the Dean of Students for the steps they have taken in ensuring our safety amidst this international crisis. I am also incredibly proud of our community for abiding by the guidelines the university and the city have set out for us, and the patience and flexibility we have collectively exhibited during this difficult time. However, I am writing to you as an increasingly concerned student in regards to the remainder of this year. Needless to say, many of my peers and I, alongside the rest of the world, are terrified of the growing consequences of this pandemic. One of the most imminent stressors for many of us is how the rest of this semester is set to unfold, and the potentially damaging effects it may have on our academic record.

Prior to this crisis, there is already an inherent multitude of hardships, responsibilities and burdens many of us have to overcome on a daily basis in the pursuit of optimal learning and success in our courses. Now, in addition to those, we have to function with the absence of a previously established foundation that was integral to our learning. The absences of the components of this foundation touch other sectors of our lives: our living situations, our income and our mental health. And thus many of us find ourselves becoming increasingly vulnerable. Whilst we all understand that these are unforeseen circumstances and I understand that this is a strenuous time for everyone, I do not believe that the burden of this crisis should be shouldered by students — we are already shouldering a great deal.

In the discourses that I have been a part of, I have found that many of my peers and I share several similar concerns. Many of us were reliant on the stability and accessibility of a pre-established routine. This new era of social distancing, while necessary and imperative for the health of our community, unfortunately, has mandates that put many of us at a great disadvantage. It introduces a multitude of new barriers to learning. Some of the more obvious barriers include the transition to online learning. Many of us are not compatible with online learning, and will consequently find ourselves faring poorly throughout the remainder of this semester. Many of us are not properly equipped for online classes; those of us with limited technical accessibility will be put at an extreme disadvantage. Many of us are now dealing with the many complications of relocating amidst a pandemic, amidst rising safety and financial concerns. Now more than ever, during this time of financial insecurity, luxuries like internet access are even more difficult to attain.

Those of us lucky to find somewhere to stay will be trading previous study spaces for busier households and smaller opportunities for efficient learning. We relied on study spaces on campus for the resources, equipment and focus necessary to successfully complete courses. In their absence, it is much more difficult. Many of us are finding ourselves out of a job and consequently reconfiguring life on a tighter budget with even more limited accessibility and a large reduction of amenities. Many of us rely on our respective learning communities; our professors, our TAs, our study partners and our peers to tackle assignments. Many of my peers have already voiced concerns that with their limited accessibility they may have to adopt extreme measures and possibly compromise their health and safety in order to satisfy course requirements.

Without the foundation that we have heavily invested in, not only emotionally but financially, completing this semester successfully seems nearly impossible. The list of extenuating circumstances goes on — they are vast, complex and intersecting.

We signed up for, and emotionally and financially invested in, a semester that would allow us an interactive four-month-long opportunity to progress in our studies, to improve in an organized, strategic and stable manner. These are trying times for all of us. We are entering a period of global health crisis, financial hardship, fear, uncertainty, instability, anxiety and isolation.

In light of this unexpected and unanticipated transition, I am pleading with the university to ensure that every student is given a passing credit for this semester. This is not to undermine the importance and necessity of our curricula. The assurance of academic success is paramount to many of us right now. We have given up and committed so much of ourselves to our grades, and for that to be in vain because of these unforeseen circumstances is more than heartbreaking. GPA matters greatly to us; much of our future endeavors are contingent on the maintenance and betterment of our GPAs. The slightest shift can cost us scholarships, internships, careers and graduate schools. Aside from GPA, not being able to pass this semester may mean we are required to retake classes. A retake of even one class is extremely costly — it may push us further in debt, it may push us back a semester and it may push graduation back.

We have dissected several approaches in student circles recently. Many of us have found that nearly every idea that does not ensure passing credit for every student is insufficient and hinders too many of us. In the case that we are graded, or even given a pass/fail for our work thus far, the opportunity to do better, learn and progress is taken away. To reemphasize, an online continuation of the semester puts many of us at a disadvantage, it is incompatible for many of us and too many of us will not progress in the manner we would have hoped, in the manner we may have been otherwise capable of. In the case we receive worse grades than we are truly capable of, the burden of this crisis will have fallen on our shoulders.

I appreciate the university’s commitment to furthering our education even in these circumstances, and I am sure there are many people working diligently, who are immensely appreciated, to make this transition possible for all of us. I understand that it is imperative for our success in future classes and in the workplace for many of us to have mastery over the content in the classes we are in today. I believe it is in most of our best interests that everyone is passed in conjunction with having the opportunity to learn our content online as much as possible.

Thank you, and I hope that the university will work with us in the midst of these trying times in ensuring our success.

Tarweeh Osman

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