Circumstance is not choice, but community is

BOCHU DING
View other op-eds abut Middlebury’s remote grading policy here.

#NoFailMidd started as a conversation within the Middlebury community about how the current opt-in Pass/D/Fail grading policy disproportionately affects the students who are struggling the most during this unprecedented pandemic. A group of us set out to find a new model that would account for students’ needs and prevent them from being penalized for circumstances out of their control. Advocating for a universal pass/fail model provided a concrete starting point for our conversation. After engaging with over 1,100 students and faculty, both through our online petition and in conversations, we transitioned into #FairGradesMidd, which aims to replace the current opt-in Pass/D/Fail model while providing students with information on the two most equitable models available: “universal pass/fail” and “Dual A.”

The current optional model unfairly impacts students for whom Middlebury can usually provide key resources on campus: students without internet access, stable housing, or food security, as well as students who depend on accommodations and additional academic support. We believe that these students are more likely to opt into Pass/D/Fail because of these circumstances. While some of their peers may set out to chase A’s from more comfortable environments, others may feel pressured to pursue letter grades at the expense of their own physical and emotional wellbeing.

A model that incentivizes division among our community and encourages students to put the prospect of a letter grade over their wellbeing is neither fair nor sustainable. Illnesses, limitations to broadband access and external stressors will make completing the semester difficult for all of us — and even more so for students in our community who are most in need of support. We fear that employers and graduate programs would interpret opting for Pass/D/Fail as a cop-out and indicative as a lack of academic drive, that our peers would make similar inferences, and that we would feel failed for not performing as we normally would. We are also concerned that  our academic and professional futures may be negatively impacted by not having letter grades in our transcripts.

For us, the most important outcome from our movement is changing our current grading model into one that comprehensively supports students who are struggling — whatever model that might be. Our cause has always been about equity, and not exclusively about the merits and details of each grading model. It is in this spirit that we have reframed our movement as #FairGradesMidd, joining efforts with other students to also present a Dual A policy as an alternative to the current system. In our Dual A model, each student is awarded either an A or an A- for each class.

We are inspired by how students have come together to discuss their ideas and demonstrate engagement for a better Middlebury. Even from a distance, we have created something much more meaningful out of these conversations: community.

We are deeply appreciative of students who are not adversely affected by this situation and we hear your concerns about GPAs and employment — it would be naïve not to recognize that this is how the world works. Still, we urge you to consider how our current model is negatively impacting our peers right now. If you do not agree with a universal pass/fail model, we urge you to look at our Dual A proposal and explore how it maintains letter grading while ensuring no students are penalized for situations out of their control.

We cannot choose the circumstances we live in, but we still have a choice about the kind community we want to create. The fight for a more equitable grading model starts with us standing together and making our voices heard. We urge you to email the SGA President and your senators to voice why this change matters to you. We urge you to contact faculty and staff and ask them to advocate for you to the administration.

We urge you to take a stand for equity and solidarity. #FairGradesMidd is an essential step in that direction.

Arthur Martins 22.5, Daleelah Saleh 23, and Jackson Tham ’22 are three of the student organizers of #FairGradesMidd. Other organizers include Luka Bowen ’22, Hira Zeeshan ’22, Tre Stephens ’21, Chloe Fleischer ’21.5 and Paul Flores-Clavel ’22.

At the time of publication, the petition has amassed 1103 signatories, 20 of whom are faculty members. To view the petition, please visit go.middlebury.edu/FairGradesMidd/.

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