From failing Wi-Fi connections to hours of homework while isolated from friends, many students have been struggling to bear both the academic and mental burdens of their courses. Despite instating mandatory Pass/No Pass for spring quarter due to concerns about the inequalities of distance learning, Northwestern has not given students this option for fall quarter.
“It’s been rough. I just really don’t have free time,” said McCormick first-year Luke McGorry, “If given the option, I’ll definitely consider it but not with all my classes. It’s just the workload and the difficulty, and on a personal level, [Pass/No Pass would save] my GPA based on my performance so far in the quarter and would alleviate some damage.”
Earlier this quarter, a group of Northwestern students began a petition asking for students to be given the option for ‘Pass/No Pass’ classes to count towards major, minor, distribution, and language requirements. While traditional letter grades contribute to a student’s GPA, taking a class Pass/No Pass only counts towards a student’s GPA if they fail. The petition emphasized that this change would be a “more equitable path for Northwestern to take and maintain its core mission of the common good.”
Since its creation, the petition has garnered over 1000 signatures. The writers of the petition also created an instagram account to advocate for optional Pass/Not Pass and share stories of Northwestern students struggling during fall classes, whether due to time zone differences, mental health issues, or heavy workloads.
“We strongly believe that by sharing these experiences, we could bond together as a community during this difficult time,” the account said in a statement, “We also believe that by sharing these experiences, Northwestern can acknowledge the problems of mental health and inequity and take proper actions to alleviate these problems.”
A Weinberg senior, who wished to remain anonymous, took on a marketing role within the Pass/No Pass campaign, working with students who manage the petition and social media account to further their cause.
“I think that the disparity between people is exacerbated due the pandmeic, and it’s gotten to the point now where people who are privileged are able to succeed and people who are not privileged are not,” he said, “The best that we have is optional pass fail.”
Students on campus have access to university facilities and resources, while those studying remotely do not. This creates an inequality between on campus and remote learners in terms of the support they receive from Northwestern.
“We don’t have any of the resources we would have had on campus,” Medill first-year Allison Rauch said, “Sure we have the library database online, but we can't go to the libraries. We can’t meet with people in their offices. We can’t access all the benefits Northwestern has that were part of the reason I wanted to come here.”
In response to the growing Pass/No Pass movement, the Associated Student Government has been discussing the topic of optional Pass/No Pass during their weekly virtual Senate meetings. During their October 14th meeting, they discussed the student body referendum to implement the optional grading system that passed with an 86% vote. In their most recent meeting on October 21, ASG continued to discuss the issue but did not publicize the content of their discussions. ASG did not respond to a request for comment.
Based on the ASG referendum, students seem generally supportive of implementing an optional Pass/No Pass grading option for those who are struggling during the fall quarter. Medill first-year Andrew Neville, who does not think he would switch the grading system of any of his classes if given the option, still believes the option is necessary to ensure a more level playing field for all students.
“I think they should consider it at least on a case by case basis,” Neville said. “There's definitely a strain on mental health not being on campus. I feel like there's definitely mental health issues and other academic issues that are playing up and need to be addressed and could be alleviated by going to optional Pass/Not Pass.”
For underprivileged students, access to resources such as a stable Wi-Fi connection or a quiet study space are prevalent issues that interfere with their studies. Those without such resources, which would have typically been provided on campus, are subject to a harder transition to remote learning.
“I have a lot of privilege in terms of that I have my own computer. I have my own room that I can study in,” said Weinberg first-year Chloe Chow, “If I had the option to do pass/fail, I’d consider it. But for other people, it’s definitely necessary and basically the least [Northwestern] can do when they’re not offering a lot of other support, especially since we’re off campus.”
For first-year and transfer students, distance learning is coupled with the stress of having to adjust to a different method of education at an unfamiliar school. These students are not attuned to Northwestern’s academic workload and do not have as many social relationships as returning students, putting additional strain on their academic and mental health.
“It multiplies the stress, and instead of going to class as normal, you have to figure out online environments as well as school environments,” McGorry said. “Getting rid of a little bit of the stress at a time where everything is way more stressful than usual is definitely worthwhile.”
As stated in the petition, other colleges, all across the country including Georgetown University, The University of Pennsylvania, and Tufts University, have given students the option to choose between letter grading and Pass/Not Pass. ASG is set to vote on optional Pass/Not Pass this Wednesday. If Northwestern administration reinstates the policy, the petition writers hope many students struggling during the fall quarter will be able to alleviate some of their stress.