Zoom fatigue, no fall break and other difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on many USC students' mental health this semester.
The struggles students have been facing led to the creation of a petition calling for the university to allow all students the option to take their courses with a grade of pass/no pass, similar to the option that was created last spring at the onset of the pandemic. The petition garnered more than 5,000 signatures.
On Wednesday, President Folt announced in a video message that the university would extend the Pass/No Pass grading option deadline through the last day of classes on Nov. 13. All courses taken Pass/No Pass during the fall semester will count towards all major, minor and graduation requirements for all undergraduate students. The university is also extending the deadline for dropping a class to Nov. 13.
For Audrey Keeling, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, switching from letter grades to pass/no pass last semester was helpful for her mental health.
“I took a class pass/no pass and it was really helpful for me to know that I wasn’t going to be penalized for having a tough time with the online format,” she said.
Amanda Elimian, a senior majoring in health and human sciences, said that pass/no pass option will be even more beneficial to STEM students in their first three years because the classes are already difficult, and being online makes them even more complicated.
“I feel terribly bad for people who are taking organic chemistry right now, because when I took that, I was losing my mind and I was allowed to go outside,” said Elimian. “I … think it’s really going to help the people who are freshmen and sophomores … taking all those natural science classes that are really hard.”
Elena Kittle-Kamp, a junior majoring in classical languages, said she believes USC should allow the pass/no pass option regardless of classes being online.
“Students have a lot of things that they’re dealing with. Some students have jobs, multiple jobs. Some students have a lot of mental health struggles that they’re dealing with. Some students have to take care of their families at home,” said Kittle-Kamp. “So I think USC should keep it..And it may be helpful with students' mental health as a whole if they know that if they fail the class is not going to tank GPA.”
However, Keeling also had concerns about how possibly having future semesters take place in this format could damage the university’s reputation.
“[If] I had to make a decision, I would say that, yes, it should be allowed for every semester that we’re forced to be in the online format. But that’s not without some concern for the end result ... or what employers will think about pass/no pass classes,” she said.
Pass/no pass courses have historically created difficulties for students in pre-health, director of the Office of Pre-Health Advisement Dr. Kenneth Geller said. According to Geller, pass/no pass helped students, but medical schools tend to not look kindly on required classes taken with pass/no pass grades. He realizes the merits of the pass/no pass option during these difficult and uncertain times.
“[Pass/no pass] was an amazing policy that helped the students,” Dr. Geller said. “It was compassionate and student-oriented. Many universities didn’t do that.”
But Dr. Geller emphasizes that building up too many pass/no pass classes on a student’s transcript could be problematic for medical schools. Last spring, California medical schools announced that if students took required courses with a grade of pass/no pass, they would not consider it a mark against the students. But in Dr. Geller’s experience, this policy doesn’t speak for the rest of the nation. He recommends his students take an A- over a passing grade, and only use the option when absolutely necessary.
“I think that overall this new policy won’t hurt the students. They just have to use it wisely,” Geller said.