Pass/no pass grading petition circulating at UCO

Students at the University of Central Oklahoma are calling on university leadership to implement a pass/no pass grading option for the fall semester, but Academic Affairs is showing reluctance to adjust.

Sophomore Jessica Addai and senior Katelyn Sargeant co-authored a petition on addressed to UCO President Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar on Wednesday. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had gathered over 1,159 signatures.

The petition highlighted several struggles, including coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, power outages and the shift to alternative learning methods, and calls for the university to “accommodate this semester’s academic disruption.”

“All the semester changes and breaks being taken away is not normal either, and trying to pass it off as normal with normal grading is very harmful,” Jessica said. “It ignores our struggles and intersectional identities on campus.

“Everything is not OK right now, and it feels like we’re kind of sinking.”

In a statement released to UCentral News Monday, the Division of Academic Affairs said that they will be following the normal grading process for the semester.

“After thoughtful consideration, we believe we have implemented instruction for the Fall 2020 semester in a manner that has carefully permitted students to perform at a level of their choosing,” said Charlotte Simmons and Gary Steward, co-interim vice presidents for Academic Affairs. “While our community continues to grapple with COVID-19, we are confident in the traditional letter grade system as indicators of student course performance.”

The petition achieved over 700 signatures within the first 24 hours. Several petition supporters left comments as to why they signed the petition.

One supporter, Taylor Beshears, commented: “As a college freshman the back and forth between zoom and in person classes has been crazy and hard to keep up with. Adjusting to college is hard enough so I believe this would help tremendously.”

Several petition supporters echoed the difficulty in adapting to new learning environments, including Grace Wray, a professional media junior.

“Some of my grades took a nosedive when I was forced to transition,” Wray said. “I’m not sure if it’s the fact the professors cannot see me physically engaging with the class or believe I’m not listening over Zoom and find it easier to dock points.

“I’ve worked very hard to have a high GPA, and I hate to see that ruined because I can’t cope with hybrid classrooms.”

Rose Nasihatkon, a junior majoring in biomedical science, said she signed the petition for the sake of her mental health.

“For some reason, this semester has had a huge toll on my mental health to the point it affected me physically,” Nasihatkon said. “I barely had any mental breakdowns before this semester, but I had at least four bad ones this semester, which made it hard for me to perform as well as I normally can.”

In a Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll conducted in mid-July, 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

Another supporter, Anna Sitzes, said she signed the petition after struggling with COVID-19. In a comment left on the petition, Sitzes said she was quarantined for three weeks after contracting the virus and is still dealing with the “lingering effects” of it.

Sitzes commented: “I pride myself in being a dedicated student and learner, but this semester has made it difficult to do so. My grades do not reflect my commitment to academia, and having the P/NP option would take this humongous weight off my shoulders and allow me to focus on completing my coursework without the pressure of my GPA.”

UCO Academic Affairs previously offered the pass/no pass option during the spring semester due to “unprecedented circumstances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to an email sent out to students in March.

“Obviously, the circumstances are even more unprecedented this semester, so why don’t we have pass/no pass this semester as well?” Sargeant said. “This is a whole new style of learning, a whole new style of fear, worry and uncertainty.”

Students were able to switch from a standard letter grade to pass/no pass after their spring 2020 grades were posted. Both P and NP are grade neutral, meaning “no impact one way or another on a GPA.”

“We need to really push forward with trying to understand that not everybody had a peaceful semester,” Addai said.

Sargeant, who created a petition for free period products on campus last year, said she was “optimistic and hopeful” about the university listening to student voices.

“I think we’ve a good chance of them listening to the petition, just because they have in the past,” Sargeant said. “Even if Academic Affairs doesn’t, Jessica and I are dedicated to making sure someone higher up is going to listen to the students and what we need for this semester.”

Addai and Sargeant both hope to achieve 5,000 overall signatures for the petition. They are aiming for 2,500 signatures by Thanksgiving break.

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