A change.org petition addressed to USC calls for the university to allow students to elect a pass/no pass grading system for any class for the Fall 2020 semester.
The petition, which began circulating online Oct. 3 had over 2,200 signatures at the time of publication, discusses the psychological effects of quarantine on students who had to move back home, as well as various difficult circumstances that arose aside from the pandemic.
“We are dealing with tackling racial inequality, an upcoming election that has high stakes, fires going on in our home state of California and the added pressure of a shortened semester,” the petition says.
USG President Gabe Savage, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law and narrative studies, said many students bear more responsibility for their households during this global crisis.
“I’ve talked to a number of students who are dealing with food insecurity, housing insecurity, unemployment issues, health issues and some are having to take care of their parents or grandparents when they get sick,” Savage said. “In my mind, moving things to pass/no pass isn’t about this direct online format involved. It has to do with the compounding issues that happen outside of online.”
Riley Gore, a junior majoring in business administration, is a first-semester transfer student who said she is trying to navigate this semester’s challenges. She signed the petition, citing the mental health effects that “will reach far beyond letter grades” as her reasoning.
“I tried to start the semester with a positive viewpoint, but it’s just been really difficult to adjust socially in the new community when everything is online,” Gore said. “It’s a struggle to make friends and classes have been pretty rough. It’s been really hard to find motivation to continue to perform well.”
Savage said he understands the school’s approach to not change the grading system due to the concerns over USC’s academic integrity and the university’s desire to protect the rigor of the academic experience. But from his own experience, he said this fall semester feels the same as it did in March when students were sent home early.
“There’s been little to no change on my end,” Savage said. “Seeing that students are starting this petition on their own lets me know that other students recognize that too. That means that that’s something that I need to be championing to administration.”
Savage said he and a number of USG senators are interested in pursuing discussions about changing the grading system to pass/no pass and that he sent an email to vice president of student affairs Winston Crisp on Oct. 5. Although Savage said he wants to remain optimistic, it’s unlikely that grading will change.
“That won’t stop us from working at it from every angle that we can,” Savage said. “Certainly with this petition sprouting up, it gives me a lot more faith, a little bit more hope that we might be able to get the administration to go on this. A priority of USG for the semester is to push this issue.”
The calls for a pass/no pass grading system for the current semester come after that pass/no pass option was made available for students last spring due to the unprecedented shift to online learning and the challenges that came along with it.
In an email sent to the Trojan community on March 30, the university administration said it agreed to such grading terms for the spring because it wanted to “give students the flexibility to decide what is best for them given the varying environments and individual challenges each student is facing.”
After months of uncertainty and constantly changing plans of how students would return to campus this semester, the university announced two weeks before classes began that courses would be conducted solely online, matching the learning system of the spring.
Andrew Chen, a junior majoring in biochemistry, said he signed the petition earlier this week for the same reasons he advocated for the pass/no pass option last spring. He said administration recognized the pressures in the spring, but despite the pandemic worsening, the university had not yet offered adequate opportunities for students this semester.
“It makes no sense to have a pass/no record grading option in the spring and then revert back to letter grades in the fall when the situation has gotten even worse,” Chen explained in an email to Annenberg Media. “It honestly feels like the concerns of USC students are not being heard and addressed by the administration. In such a stressful, high-stakes time, it would be a slap in the face of students for USC to keep expecting students to prioritize their GPA when GPA is obviously not the most important thing at this moment.”
Gore said that people have “other things to worry about during this time.” Savage agreed and said the pass/no pass option will not only help students' GPAs, but it will also help with the other critical issues of being a student during the coronavirus lockdown.
“Classes are a symptom, not the problem,” Savage said. “I think this is much larger than the one aspect of our academic experience. I think this has to do with the holistic experience of a student during this time.”
USC did not respond to Annenberg Media’s interview requests by the time of publication.