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SGA considers grading changes in light of COVID-19

By BRIANNA DANG | March 25, 2020

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The Student Government Association (SGA) discussed potential changes to grading amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak at their meeting on Tuesday, March 24. Open to the student body, the meeting was held on Zoom, an online conference call platform.

Following the University’s announcement that remote classes will continue through the end of the semester, several petitions were formed to implement changes to the University’s grading policy. The three grading options that were discussed during the SGA meeting were universal A/A-, universal satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) and opt-in satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U).

Senior Class Senator Chase McAdams and Sophomore Class President Nathan Mudrak met with the Homewood Academic Council on Wednesday afternoon alongside other student and faculty representatives from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and Whiting School of Engineering to finalize a decision. They presented an official SGA poll on alternative grading policies that the student body was sent after the meeting.

Senior Class Senator Elquis Castillo II believes that administrators and SGA representatives should hold a broader view in mind.

“We need to take into more account the pandemic, as we haven’t reached the apex,” he said. “We’re going to see worse, such as people in the community losing their parents or infrastructure.”

Prior to the SGA meeting, a poll was distributed among the student body, asking students to choose which of the three options students preferred. At the time of the meeting, two-thirds of respondents had voted for the A/A- system. 

McAdams expressed concerns about the A/A- system. Freshman Reid Brotmann echoed McAdams’ sentiments during the public input period. 

“A lot of people here have worked hard for our GPA, and we would want the solution that rewards our hard work,” Brotmann said. “With the A/A- solution, I don’t feel like I’ll be reaping the same rewards.”

Freshman Sim Guerrero disagreed with Brotmann.

“Everyone works hard for their grades, but there are people who are structurally disadvantaged: who do not have internet, have no light and have to take on undue burdens. It is time to consider the work that they have to put in,“ Guerrero said. “This is the time that SGA and admin need to be applying equitable solutions... We shouldn’t choose what is better for privileged students and sacrifice students from lesser circumstances.”

Freshman Marc Helou also responded to Brotmann.

“Everyone getting A/A- does not demerit yours,” Helou said. “This is one semester where our entire life is turned upside down.”

Senior Class Senator Kahmil Shajihan explained that SGA’s Academic Affairs (AA) committee, which he chairs, believes that though most would benefit from the A/A- option, it could be unfair to students who took more difficult classes in the past and got lower grades.

Fellow Senior Class Senator Jake O’Keeffe cited similar reasoning, saying that he would like this semester to be made opt-in S/U. 

“As a graduating senior in a different continent right now, I care a lot about my GPA,” he said. “It’s important for people who want to boost their GPA and those who have not adapted well their first few semesters.”

Freshman Harshit Bhasin, an international student, argued that the GPA boost from this grading system would be ineffective, noting that it could deprive First-Generation, Limited-Income (FLI) students of their scholarships. 

“At this point, it’s not good enough to want a GPA boost to throw other people under the bus,” he said.

Sophomore Class Senator Talal Widatalla also described this approach as an inadequate solution.

“All the optional [pass/fail] P/F system would be doing is extending the existing P/F deadline without addressing the inequity of students taking the same class, but in different situations,” he said. 

Instead, Widatalla advocated for a standardized grading approach. Freshman Class President Breanna Soldatelli agreed with Widatalla. 

“Keep in mind that away from Hopkins, people don’t have the same resources, even as the academic rigor stays the same,” she said. “Think about students who are in a different situation than yourself.”

Junior Keidai Lee emphasized the stress that many students currently face amid the COVID-19 outbreak. When he leaves the house wearing a mask, he said, people accuse him of “bringing the virus to America.” He added that his father has no work because trade workers cannot work at home.

“The pandemic is getting serious,” Lee said. “I say this for everyone, I propose that no one deserves to fail this semester. Certainly there will be minimal inflation to grades, but now is the time to show mercy.”

While sophomore Melissa Arboleda agreed with the push for the A/A- system, she felt it was unrealistic that the administration would agree to it, given the University’s current grade deflation.

Freshman Esteban Rivera agreed with Arboleda.

“My real concern is that Hopkins will not accept or listen to us,” Rivera said. “They’ll think we’re being too optimistic.”

Senior David Saveliev, on the other hand, argued that any form of an S/U system prevents students who come from underserved or international backgrounds to fully take advantage of their education at Hopkins. He noted that when he first came to campus, he barely spoke English.

“The only system that will actually work is the A/A-, but the main concerns are that admin won’t take this option seriously, but admin never takes anything seriously,” he said. 

Lee echoed Saveliev’s sentiments.

“It’s important to do what’s right, and not what’s conventional just because it’s forced down our throat,” Lee said. “As SGA, please represent us.”

Freshman Francisco Lizano agreed with Lee, arguing that student needs should be placed before what the administration may or may not deem reasonable. 

“It’s silly to think that because something won’t be passed doesn’t mean it’s not important to us,” Lizano said. “P/F that’s optional isn’t optional for underprivileged students.”

Freshman Sofia Angel expressed her concerns after listening to the ongoing debate.

“For the people representing us, I’m worried that if admin says no to the A/A- system, SGA won’t fight back,” Angel said.

Angel further explained that her household can no longer use the electricity because her father was laid off. In addition to taking care of her baby cousins, Angel must work online jobs in order to pay bills. 

“Tell admin that they’ve deflated us enough, and let us, in this moment of crisis, not get punished,” she said. 

According to Shajihan, the Academic Affairs committee believes that mandatory S/U grading would be equitable and accepted by medical and graduate schools if implemented by the University. 

Sophomore Rachel Nie believes there is currently a lack of equitability. She noted that with online classes, it has become easier to cheat and that classes are now weighed differently.

“I don’t think it’s fair to do an opt-in option. As a premed I can’t opt-in,” Nie said. “No matter what I do, I can’t P/F, but if I get a C, then I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Senior Alice Yang, one of the student organization leaders that aided in the initial push for alternative grading systems, disagreed with those who felt that A/A- was not a viable system. 

“The Harvard Crimson published a paper that their administration unanimously agreed that the A/A- is the most equitable,” Yang said.

McAdams explained that he does not view the A/A- system as being effective, and is entirely against the universal S/U system.

“My biggest concern with the A/A- system is that you’re allowing people to do nothing,” McAdams said. 

Mudrak does not support the opt-in S/U policy in its current form. Several students, such as freshman Jia Rui Wang, voiced their dissatisfaction with McAdams and Mudrak’s statmements.

“It’s clear that the majority of SGA and students support A/A-,” Wang said. “It’s rude to ignore the opinion of SGA and the student body and just vote for their own volition.”

Shajihan explained that students like Mudrak and McAdams spent a lot of time over spring break working on this issue.

“Everyone is very emotional, but we should just be together and work together,” he said.

Senior David Saveliev underscored students’ right to express their anger.

“We are the Johns Hopkins University constituents,” he said. “We will certainly be angry and emotional about this because it’s our future on the line.”

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