An open letter to administrators: Students need more than just a pass/fail option to virtually succeed

Danika Brockman

I know the entire administration at Washington and Lee University is working very hard to ensure students are able to continue their education with as much accommodation as possible. For those efforts, I am truly thankful.

I wanted to voice a concern you all have surely considered but I would like to reemphasize: the difficulty that many students are facing balancing home life with the responsibilities of being a full-time student. In response to this added stress for students, I want to advocate for instating a credit/no credit grading policy as soon as possible.

A recent email from Provost Conner confirmed rumors I – and I’m sure most of the student body – had heard: that students would be allowed to opt into a credit/no credit grading system at the end of the semester if they choose. However, I don’t think this solves the problem of the added pressure on students during this time.

Obviously, all students would prefer an “A” over a “Credit” on their transcript, so the pressure and time commitment to achieve high grades are still present in the time where many students cannot handle that extra responsibility and stress. This later decision, though it is flexible for many students, does not take the pressure off of students to put their all into their studies when they don’t have the capacity to do so. So students will feel the same pressure to achieve through these stressful times, when I think relieving that pressure altogether is the most appropriate thing to do. This measure still asks students to put forth A-achieving effort during this time, which is unfair to those students who cannot manage that.

Though I am privileged enough to have a relaxed home life, not be in charge of childcare or meal preparation, and have a space I can dedicate to studying, I hope we all worry about my fellow students who aren’t so lucky. My friend has a family of eight people and he is sharing a room with his younger siblings. His parents are working and he is responsible for feeding his siblings and watching them while their parents are gone. I have another friend whose family all lives in a one-room apartment, and she does not have a space to focus and study. Yet another friend has a poor relationship with her parents and doesn’t feel safe enough to be a full-time student. I think rather than asking these students to try and achieve a futile goal, the school should take the added pressure off of them and allow them to care for themselves and their families during this time.

The option of a credit/no credit grade is not a solution to students’ added responsibilities. It is just a safety net for those who are given more responsibility during this quarantine than others. I hope this is taken into consideration for future actions from the school. I know we are thinking deeply about these concerns and will do what we find is best for all of us.