A & E Editor
On Dec. 3, Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty Associate Professor sal johnston sent an email to students wishing us and our families well “during this challenging time,” informing us that the College would stay on the module system for the Spring semester. This email included a feedback form for students to fill out, with slightly biased phrasing within the four questions included on the survey. A handful of the Quaker Campus staff writers collaborated to answer these questions honestly, and to provide student perspective on how and why these questions didn’t sit right with many of us.
What were your experiences in the classroom during the Fall 2020 remote learning semester?
When I think about my experiences in the “classroom” (aka my bedroom) this Fall, the word positive definitely does not come to mind. It is very disturbing, actually, to think about how many negative emotions one can now associate with what is supposed to be their place of relaxation and escape. How would you like to be “in class” in your safe space and have a professor make you feel dumb for mispronouncing a word, or, even worse, receive a complete lack of support from an authority figure who claims that they care about our current situation? It’s definitely not fun, and acts as a deterrent in attending class.
The only good thing I experienced this remote Fall semester was the new music I listened to, or time spent with my family; time spent “in class,” or doing anything related to my academics, does not even come within 1,000 feet of ‘positive.’ The module system is the main culprit for this.
My bedroom — now my one-stop shop for everything I do throughout the day because it is the only quiet place I can go — no longer serves as my personal space; it is no longer special. Instead, it serves as an environment that greatly decreases my motivation for school. I am currently a fourth-year, among many others at Whittier College. None of us ever imagined that we would spend our last year, a time we are never ever going to get back, stuck in our bedrooms — deprived of the full experience of sports, clubs, societies, friends, and jobs.
Some students are more fortunate than others when it comes to the “classroom” environment of this module system. If you had the opportunity to receive an understanding professor from either of these modules, you are fortunate. Not all were as lucky, and it has greatly affected the module experience. Much of the student body at Whittier College have the opportunity to attend due to scholarships, or have been accepted into societies, such as myself. However, like anything in life, there are conditions — in this case, maintaining a certain grade point average. Our grades greatly affect us, much more than some professors realize. Especially because of everything that has happened this past year due to COVID-19, it is more imperative than ever for professors to truly examine the circumstances and the grades they give. Ultimately, they hold the power over all of us students that determine so many aspects of our college life, and that power is often thrown aside as if it is not a huge deal when, in fact, it truly is.
This stress I currently experience has tainted the first half of my senior year so much that it is difficult to read anything that is positive. In conclusion, this Fall 2020 remote learning “semester” has brought nothing but lack of motivation and focus, and poor mental health. I, and so many other Whittier College students, have written about this very topic already; there are just some staff members who refuse to listen or truly take our feelings into account. Maybe it would be worth reading those pieces instead of sending surveys….
What, if any, are the positives things you encountered during the Fall 2020 remote learning semester?
The phrasing of this question compels students to identify positive aspects of remote learning without explicitly giving them the same outlet for the negative things they encountered during Fall 2020. Considering students did not get a voice, such as a survey or poll, to decide whether we should continue modular learning in the spring semester (did we really decide on the Fall semester either), it is prudent to include our voices to improve this system as much as possible. Instead, it feels as though the College is telling students they should just suck it up and stop complaining.
We’re burnt out. We feel ignored. I did three years of online high school and it worked way better for me than my in-person high school, but it was an institution designed to create a healthy and engaging school environment for students online. Whittier seems to be failing to admit that they were thrown for a loop, just like the students. The positive things I have encountered this semester are the ways in which my professors have adapted to make their class still feel challenging and fun without absolutely breaking students down. I appreciate my professors so much, but I won’t lie: I feel like the quantity and quality of my classes has suffered as a result of the modular system. Even though the content of my classes has been sacrificed to the almighty modular system, I barely have time to breathe between endless essays, voicethreads, and responsibilities outside of school. In the last week of this module, I barely have the motivation to get up. The module system has sapped my passion for my majors. Yet, there’s three modules in spring!
After module one concluded, Whittier College President Linde Oubre sent out an email stating: “For our students, remember that college is supposed to be challenging, whether in-person, remote, as a semester, quarters, or modules. We learn best and retain more when we have to struggle and push ourselves as part of the learning process … But also remember that we do not expect you to do it alone. We are here for you. […] Tell us how you’re doing and ask us for what you need to be successful.”
Since receiving this survey, this email feels like a slap to the face. From the moment this module system was instituted, students were told to just give it a chance. When it was first announced, I sent an email to those in charge who placated my worries with empty statements that didn’t even answer my questions. The next email about the module system stated “Please read it thoroughly before reaching out with additional questions,” which seemed like another way of telling students that our questioning of the vague outline for the module system was not going to get substantial answers.
Now that we’re given a survey for this module system, it feels as if the administration’s sentiment of disregard has only continued. Simply giving us the platform to talk about the module system is not enough if you only ask for positive feedback. Tell students how you’re going to incorporate their feedback. Show that you care, that students don’t have to jump through a million hoops just to feel like they’re being seen and heard. We have spent the last three months in this system. This survey is a cop-out for fielding actual complaints that are well substantiated given our experiences since the institution of this module system.
What, If any, suggestions would you make to the faculty to prepare for the Spring 2021 remote learning semester?
I suggest that the faculty treat our current moment as an emergency. Life isn’t normal, and neither are we. We are trying our best to complete assignments and study, but between at-home distractions and mental illnesses, it’s simply too much. I’ve heard horror stories of students getting assigned three hours of homework per night and having to attend class every day, only to fail quizzes and be accused of “not studying hard enough” by their professors.
Prepare for seven weeks to fly by. If you’re thinking you’re going to get to all you want within seven weeks, I have got news for you: seven weeks isn’t enough time to absorb all the information you have to offer. To professors, I suggested not to expect a beautifully-written 10-page paper, or bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students on Zoom. Expect students to be at their breaking point.
The world is unpredictable and scary, especially right now. We see people choosing to ignore science in the name of their freedom, as if the two have anything to do with each other. We see people not wearing masks because it ‘feels uncomfortable,’ or some other excuse that speaks to the entitlement of Americans. There is a deadly virus going around threatening the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. We see police brutality all over the news. We see people who have lost their jobs during a pandemic, then being evicted from their homes because they cannot pay rent. We see annual temperatures rise, the ice caps melt, and wildfires as an effect of Global Warming, and yet clean energy is still debated because it’s not profitable. After college, we look to a dying U.S. controlled by corporate fat cats who don’t pay taxes and don’t pay their employees a fair wage (ahem, Jeff Bezos). I mean, it’s so hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
Please be understanding. We are understanding of you, and how difficult switching online is. We miss you. We want to all stay safe so we can come back together. We all need to be understanding of how bizarre and difficult this time is.
What, if anything, can the College do [to help you] have a successful Spring 2021?
I totally understand that the College is doing everything that it can in order to accommodate learning online, and it is definitely a relief to not have to focus on five classes at the same time. However, the module system is a little too accelerated, and there are plenty of professors that, instead of adjusting the amount of content that they usually go over in a semester, have decided to cram everything into the seven-week module. On the College’s part, it would be nice to see professors encouraged to not do that to us. It would also be lovely for professors to recognize that, with such a short amount of time in the class, a lighter workload is necessary.
The workload — it is seriously ridiculous for a lot of classes. As someone who often talks to fourth-years, I have heard complaints about having to complete a senior paper in seven weeks — and that concept seems crazy to me, as well. Senior seminars should definitely be extended module classes, and, if they have to be worth six credits in order to not overwhelm fourth-years with extra classes during each module, so be it. Fourth-years deserve six credits for writing length-y papers and doing extensive research during a pandemic, in my opinion.
Personally, I have been working two jobs and trying to keep up with all of the work my professors have given us. I’ve had to choose between keeping my job and going to school; I chose school because I can, and I have a family willing to support me until I graduate. This is not the case for all students. I know people who are dropping out, and some who decided, back in the summer, not to come back to Whittier College this school year because they anticipated that it would be a lot of work with no beneficial outcome. It’s starting to feel that way to me, as well, with all the busy-work and so little actual learning. I’m going to stick it out for this year, though, and keep my fingers crossed for improvements throughout my last year of college.
Also, jumping from one module directly into another is exhausting and overwhelming. Ending school in June instead of May would be well worth having a week-break between each module to recuperate after juggling two accelerated classes. The module system would work much better if students had a chance to breathe between each one.
What students need right now is to be heard. The College is right to send out surveys and take feedback from us for the online learning system, but it needs to actually be implemented for any of this to be useful. Hopefully, we will see a few changes made in the Spring to make the module system a little more bearable.
Feature image: Emerson Little / Quaker Campus