Last year’s largely virtual academic format took a big toll on the Amherst student body. The college and professors responded adequately — providing updated Flexible Grading Option (FGO) policies, more leniency on extensions, exclusively take-home tests and other helpful changes. We were living through a deadly global pandemic and, in many cases, had not even met each other in person yet. In addition, the pandemic was affecting us all in ways that we may not have wanted to share. For the most part, the pandemic fostered a sense of understanding between professors and students, an unspoken agreement not to pry or ask for detailed excuses.
As the return to in-person instruction this semester revived in-person events and social life, so it brought back pre-covid academic expectations. These circumstances make for a large adjustment, especially for students who were remote all last year and sophomores who have only experienced those conditions shaped by the pandemic.
Implicit in campus’ readjustment is the assumption that students and professors are no longer dealing with the burden of the pandemic, and the world outside of Amherst has also returned to normal. However, as many have remarked, we are far from normalcy, and it is only fair that our academic expectations should reflect that fact.
Not only are students still dealing with bi-weekly Covid tests, restrictions on socialization and double masking policies in classrooms, the impact of the pandemic on resources and staff can still be strongly felt throughout the college. Val is still not offering its usual array of dining options, and it won’t be able to if the college’s labor shortage doesn’t improve soon. In addition, students are dealing with a housing crisis due to the unprecedented increase of students on campus. . Since the return to campus, more students are seeking help from the Counseling Center, which is sometimes overbooked and inaccessible. In addition to all of these campus-specific challenges, many of us are still dealing with the larger and still-deadly effects of the pandemic that now go mostly unspoken.
Despite these issues, students are still expected to adjust to old academic expectations and to work at the same productive rate they did before the pandemic. This change is not only in policy, but also in the reintroduction of professors’ limited leniency and pre-academic standards.
Students need to be given the leniency that they were given last year because we are still experiencing the pandemic. But I believe that beyond that, students should be given this leniency even in the absence of a global pandemic.
Even under normal circumstances, students struggle with personal issues, many of which make meeting certain academic obligations unreasonably challenging. College culture in general allows deadlines without regard to mental health. Oftentimes college precludes personal life and contributes to burnout and ailing health among students. There’s no reason for this to be the case.
As the “alma mater” of the student body, the college should consider the emotional impacts of policies as well as purely academic ones. Especially when students’ mental health has gone downhill and access to help is still a difficulty for many students.
The policies created during the pandemic should stay. FGO policies in place last year may help students who are dealing with the death of a loved one or an accident. In addition, take-home tests should stay for good in fields in which time-based memorization is not essential and application is more important, like statistics or computer science.
Finally, leniency from professors toward students struggling with personal issues should be expected under all circumstances. Students should not be obligated to share their personal issues with their professors in order to obtain extensions. To expect students to be able to perform at their highest level at all moments is to fail to see them holistically as young people who chose a school which specifically fosters exploration, freedom, and academic risk. They should never feel pressured to “prove” their struggle for leniency and empathy. There is so much we can learn from the pandemic, and heightened compassion for one another should be first on our list.