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Letter to Faculty: In a time of protest and pandemic, students need additional academic accommodations

By , , , and

CW : police brutality, anti-Blackness, death

Dear Stanford Faculty:

We hope that you and your loved ones are safe, healthy and well during these times. We want to recognize that these are trying times; we understand how difficult transitioning to a completely online quarter must have been — changing your courses to be accessible in this new format in just a few weeks, attempting to engage with your students over Zoom, shifting modes of communications and figuring it out all the while. We also recognize how hard it must be to navigate this time; learning how to cope and connect amidst social distancing, mourning lost loved ones because of COVID-19, dealing with the financial impacts of this crisis and moving towards an uncertain and terrifying future. Spring quarter unfortunately was never going to be business as usual; and as the end of the quarter approaches, that fact has been made infinitely clear.

Every member of the Stanford community knows this well, because they have seen things get progressively worse. However, even in these most difficult times, when our students need support, the University has not moved quickly enough to provide the accommodations — financial, emotional and academic — that are necessary. 

Many of our students have returned home to houses that no longer have room for them, to unstable and unsafe living environments that could not provide the assurance of an everyday meal the way our dining halls could. Some students found themselves on the other side of grocery and restaurant counters, now working full-time in high-contact essential jobs to make ends meet amidst mass unemployment in America. And for students still on campus, particularly international and housing-insecure students, the campus became a ghost town. Many students will spend the last few weeks of this quarter looking for their next home for the summer, rather than finishing classes. Some students have grieved the loss of loved ones, mourned the wreckage of their old lives, anguished in the instability brought about by the pandemic. Some may be experiencing a combination of the above. 

Some students, moreover, grieve in other ways. And they have grieved every day for the last two months. Because when we lay our loved ones to rest, there’s more to bury. While COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 106,000 Americans, systematic racism claims so many more. The events of the last week have made this painfully clear. 

A little over a week ago, an unarmed Black man named George Floyd was murdered by officer David Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department in broad daylight. Chauvin was captured on video laughing as Floyd took his dying breath. This atrocity comes amidst an unrelenting wave of hyper-visible Black suffering and death.  On the same day, Tony McDade, a Black trans man, was called a slur and fatally shot in Tallahasee, Florida, to considerably less national outcry. Earlier this month, a video emerged of a young Black man named Ahmaud Arbery being murdered during a jog. In March, a Black woman named Breonna Taylor was fatally shot eight times by Louisville police barging into her home with a battering ram on a no-knock warrant. All of us, but particularly Black students, faculty and staff, have been shaken by hearing about and watching these murders week after week.

As of Tuesday, protests have been organized in all 50 states, U.S. territories and internationally. A majority of these protests have been met with vicious and unrelenting force from police and the National Guard. Protesters, crying out for the necessary humanity and respect of Black life, have been met with rubber bullets, tear gas and violent force. In the past few days, a number of Stanford students participating in these protests have been subject to this violence, facing arrest and brutality for standing strong in what they believe in. Many more have watched their communities burn down and have spent the last few days volunteering to clean and rebuild their communities. Thousands of Stanford students have donated to bail funds and local community organizations, in support of those who are on the frontlines right now.  

This moment is a constant and pervasive reminder of the pandemic, of rampant inequality, of economic insecurity and of state violence. While some students have more time to focus on their schoolwork and wonder what steps they can take for their futures, other students wonder what futures they can have, when armed with the knowledge that their lives are inherently worthless in a world riddled with institutional racism and unjust living conditions. For some students, there is never even a consideration that their lives hang in a precarious balance. For others, not having to worry about dying is a rare privilege. 

Schoolwork has been the last thing on many students’ minds. Many professors across Stanford’s various schools have been aware of this, making accommodations for their students by reducing final assignment requirements and allowing students to miss the remaining class sessions. Other professors have elected to wait for a University-wide decision to shift the structure of their courses. Many students have reached out to their professors, to their TAs and to all of us to share what they’re experiencing right now and why they need support — detailed at length in this student petition with more than 1,000 signatures, calling for a universal pass policy. 

In light of this, we are strongly urging the Stanford administration to support students by implementing a universal policy to guide instructors’ grading decisions and extending the deadline for instructors to submit their grades for both graduating and non-graduating students. 

Undergraduates are not the only ones who are struggling during this time. We recognize and appreciate the guidance offered by the office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education, which encourages instructors to accommodate the needs of graduate students taking courses. However, the many graduate students who are no longer in courses do not benefit from these accommodations. Additionally, there is variation by department in the extent to which students are offered support, and oftentimes this support is on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, we are asking that each department:

  • Support graduate students through extensions of funding packages as outlined in the recent demands made by the Student Solidarity Network and allies letter to school deans
  • Take the personal initiative to reach out to graduate students individually who may be personally affected by the circumstances created both by the COVID-19 pandemic and police brutality, considering that many advanced graduate candidates do not receive support from classes.

As we wait for University-wide action on these matters, we encourage you as individual faculty, to follow the lead of your colleagues and implement some or all of the following policies:

  • Offering optional final exams, assignments, papers or projects 
  • Extending deadlines for assignments that cannot be made optional
  • Altering final exams, assignments, papers or projects to be lower-stakes
  • Extending the amount of time allotted for take-home exams 
  • Excusing absences for Weeks 8-10 of the quarter 
  • Proactively reaching out your class to remind students about their options
  • Encouraging your peer faculty to do the same

We firmly believe that you should take all possible steps to support your students during this time. As you’ve heard and said throughout the last few months, these are unprecedented times. We need to come together as a community and look out for one another. The decision is in your hands, as faculty, to take action and support your students. And the urgency to take up this mantle grows by the minute.  

We hope that you will heed our requests and we are looking forward to working with you to support our community.

Signed,

Munira Alimire ’22, ASSU President 2020-2021

Vianna Vo ’21, (she/her) ASSU Vice President 2020-2021

Jianna So ’21 (she/her), ASSU Chief of Staff 2020-2021

Micheal Brown ’22, (he/him), ASSU Senate Chair, 2020-2021

Kari Barclay ’21, (they/he) GSC Chair 2020-2021

Contact ASSU Executives at president ‘at’ assu.stanford.edu.

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