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Editorial: Thumbs up, thumbs down semester review

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Student Senate

Throughout the semester, Student Senate has taken steps toward becoming a more transparent and representative organization.

Student Senate has been pushing for pass/fail this entire semester. Despite facing push back from the university, they’ve been consistent in their demand for the grading option.

The organization has gotten students to voice their opinions on pass/fail. Through Google Forms, they’ve collected student responses, some saying that the pandemic hasn’t helped student mental health and that online learning isn’t ideal or that the pandemic has affected their family and loved ones as well.

Members of Student Senate have even presented alternatives to pass/fail. They’ve said professors could choose whether or not they want the grading option for their class, they could be offered for BCC classes and other alternatives to the option for eligible students.

The student senators have been mostly transparent about their plans on social media and spreading awareness of their activities. They let the student body know when a speaker will be present at a meeting, spreading mental health tips, how to keep up with pass/fail and much more.

The open communication has given the student body a chance to be aware of campus changes.

University COVID-19 Response

Deciding to continue with in-person classes this fall was certainly controversial and led to many Bradley community members, including our staff, to place bets on how long we’d last. Somehow, we did it. While this could be attributed to the efforts of students, there’s no doubt that university guidelines and actions helped prevent outbreaks. 

When cases spiked in September, the two-week all-campus quarantine effectively stopped the spread and led to a lower positivity rate. They imposed regulations during and after this quarantine that detailed students weren’t allowed to dine-in at restaurants and bars or gather in groups of more than three. More importantly, they held students accountable by imposing penalties. 

The administration faced a lot of backlash for these guidelines, but they were exactly what was needed to safely remain on campus during a pandemic.

The university offering free flu shots and COVID-19 tests the week before Thanksgiving break should also be commended and went a step beyond the suggested two-week quarantine before heading home.  

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Student Activism, Change.org petitions

2020 saw multiple groups pushing for change and betterment of society, and Bradley’s student population was no exception. Throughout the first semester, students put together multiple Change.org petitions, asking the university to address multiple issues regarding student life. 

This is a welcomed sight but more can be done. 

Petitions asking the university for a pass-fail grading option and a decrease in COVID-19 restrictions on students socializing went largely unacknowledged by university administration. Other petitions, like one calling for President Stephen Standifird’s resignation, were simply unrealistic and delegitimized the seriousness of other student petitions. 

While the university should pay more attention to calls for action, students may need to create a push for change outside of a virtual petition website. Directly emailing or physically handing in petitions with signatures of students to members of administration is one way to do this. 

Actions taken by students to elevate their voices over the past semester are commendable, but it may take more than a Change.org petition to capture the attention of those in charge. 

Switching to Canvas at the Beginning of the Semester

At the beginning of the semester, many students found themselves using the new platform Canvas for their classes. 

While Canvas is more user-friendly than Sakai and allows students to set their pronouns and independently message teachers on the platform, the shift was jarring for many students and professors. Navigating a new platform is difficult enough, but when there is no in-person support to help ease students into the transition, it can be a significant stressor—especially in the middle of a pandemic. Additionally, many students had to toggle between both Canvas and Sakai for their classes for the duration of the semester. Memorizing and managing classes on separate platforms is, at the very least, a tedious endeavor. While the switch to Canvas was a smart decision, the timing was not, leaving us giving a thumb in the middle.

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University COVID-19 Response

The pandemic itself is a colossal thumbs down, and though the university’s response was given a thumbs up, it was not immune to its shortcomings. Fall 2020 started off with a chaotic thumbs down as classes suddenly shifted to online shortly before the semester began and after students paid for courses assumed to be in-person. It was already going to be a semester with many changes, but this sudden and misleading shift did not help the stress level of the students. 

Surveillance testing needed to happen to help keep the campus community safe, but the process had a couple of issues; some students and faculty were selected multiple times while others weren’t selected at all. Also, remote students and faculty who had no contact with the university were also eligible to be chosen. This was a result of the random sample system, but there may have been a way to slightly alter the selection process to lead to a more consistent number of tests administered on campus weekly. 

Additionally, isolation and quarantine conditions were not ideal. Although these steps were necessary, it seemed to be a logistical nightmare, especially before the revised conditions of what warranted a student to go into quarantine. Students also had to room with possible strangers or be bussed to a hotel for their isolation period. Isolation was not expected to be a five-star experience, but some of these conditions were far from comfortable. 

Although there was not a perfect response to the pandemic, and Bradley did what it could in other facets of its response, Bradley can certainly learn from this semester.

Decision on Pass/fail 

This semester, the university decided not to offer the pass/fail grading option, unlike how it did during the spring semester. 

When asked for the reasoning behind this at a Student Senate general assembly on Sept. 28, university president Stephen Standifird said the sudden shift to online learning last semester garnered such an action, and that students’ financial aid would be adjusted if they did opt for pass/fail this semester. 

In an email to students on Nov. 5, university provost Walter Zakahi stated in an email that the students who are most likely to take the pass/fail option are the ones who are most negatively impacted by it. He reaffirmed that not implementing it was the university’s best option at the General Assembly meeting this past Monday. 

Despite the reasoning, it is quite unfortunate that students will not be able to opt into pass/fail or that an alternative could be established. As it has been iterated in the past by members of the Student Senate, this semester may have been more difficult than last semester. 

As said before, the toll of mental health on this campus was prevalent. In a survey sent out by Student Senate, some faculty noted worry that students who opted for pass/fail wouldn’t engage in class or affect scholarships. Unfortunately, the challenges of hybrid learning, as well as a two-week all-student quarantine, provided extra bumps in the road no one was used to. These factors could also affect a student’s engagement in class or scholarship. It may make no difference if they are struggling. 

If an exception was made for half of last semester, then some form of leeway should have been processed for this semester. But it seemed as though the sides of the student body and administration did not communicate efficiently enough to even begin to talk about an alternative plan. 

The university experience

This semester has certainly been full of frustration, but let’s remember that most of the blame falls on the ultimate antagonist: COVID-19. 

This semester is not comparable to others. For freshmen, college has fallen short of expectation. For upperclassmen, it’s a hollowed-out version of what they once had. The overwhelming consensus is that virtual platforms don’t replace in-person interactions, whether that be in the classroom or for clubs and organizations. 

And while we yearn for the events and freedoms of the past, college students everywhere know the university experience is just simply another casualty of this pandemic. While we cannot get any of those canceled events or experiences back, we can adjust our expectations and take comfort in the fact that all campuses are just a little too quiet and all students’ weekly screen times are skyrocketing. In other words, we are not alone.

There is no predicting what next semester entails, but one thing is certain: we cannot expect the same university experience we had a year ago, or we will surely be disappointed. Instead, we can adapt and make the most of what we do have.

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The Scout is published by members of the student body of Bradley University. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University.