A baffling conclusion to the 2016 presidential race left some students feeling too emotionally distraught to complete major exams and assignments, but student requests for election-related dean’s excuses Wednesday morning were rejected. And while some professors relaxed the workload this week, students expressed frustration with the lack of leniency from other faculty following the upset — and upsetting — election.
“Dean’s excuses are meant to address a very narrow band of issues, such as student illness or a family emergency,” Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker told the News. “Dean’s excuses are not designed to respond to reactions, howsoever deeply felt or unsettling, to an event such as a national election.”
However, Schenker added that the withholding of dean’s excuses does not mean that events, like Trump’s victory, are not worthy of the Yale community’s attention. Schenker said Yale provides guidance and support to students through resources like Yale Mental Health and Counseling and residential college administrators, not through the distribution of dean’s excuses.
Although some residential college deans asked the Yale College Dean’s Office whether the election warranted the distribution of excuses, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway echoed Schenker and said it did not.
“A few residential college deans had asked centrally whether this could be a moment for dean’s excuses, with students staying up late, and this isn’t one of those moments,” Holloway said. “We don’t give dean’s excuses for election results and whatever experiences students are having.”
He added that the Yale community must focus on its identity as a center for education and that “we must keep going forward. We just have to.”
But some students said the widespread campus distress over the election had hindered their ability to do coursework, criticizing the unresponsiveness of some faculty to student pleas.
Claire Rossi de Leon ’19 said that, as Trump’s chances of victory grew Tuesday evening, classmates in her Biology 102 section — taught by biology professor Mark Mooseker — began to appeal to Mooseker through the classroom online forum for the postponement of a midterm scheduled for Wednesday morning. Rossi de Leon said she found it difficult to focus on her studying while election results were coming in.
“It was really hard to be there learning about membranes when Trump was winning the election,” she said.
Anonymous posts to the Biology 102 forum obtained by the News said Trump’s win would hinder their focus in class and potentially damage the performance of prepared students. One post suggested that students whose families could potentially be adversely affected by Trump’s proposed policies might be at an unfair disadvantage in the test. Many posts offered suggestions for how to reschedule the midterm. Biology 102 teaching fellows deleted many of the posts after 30 minutes because they were “not directly related to class materials.”
On Wednesday morning Mooseker emailed his students that a dean’s excuse would be required to be exempt them from the midterm, according to Rossi de Leon.
Seungjung Sohn ’19, also in Mooseker’s class, said she knew of many students who also had Wednesday assignments and exams struggling to focus on anything but Trump’s triumph. Sohn added that she thought Mooseker’s decision made sense but could have been handled with more care and without deleting the online forum posts.
In another academic response to the election, Physics 180 cancelled the class’s second midterm scheduled for Thursday, instead assigning an identical take-home exam due Friday.
In a 6 p.m. notification to students Wednesday, the physics professors said that “a timed midterm would not reflect the hard work we’ve seen all of you put into preparing for this [exam].”
A similar scenario played out in an Economics 115 section taught by economics professor Steven Berry, which also had a midterm scheduled for Wednesday. Students in the class, however, got an email at around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning notifying them that the exam would be made optional.
Instead of dean’s excuses, Yale administrators and faculty members flooded student inboxes with messages of support and consolation during a potentially difficult time for many.
In an email to undergraduates Wednesday afternoon, Holloway called on students to come together in what he called “a very difficult period on campus.”
“This is a time for connection and conversation, for reaching out to each other, for listening to each other,” he wrote. “It’s a time to give each other space to respond to and integrate the events of these past few weeks. It’s a time to respect each other.”
Holloway addressed sentiments of disbelief at the election results while also alluding to the recent passing of Hale Ross ’18 and Rae Na Lee ’19, two students whose deaths last week plunged the campus into mourning.
Residential college heads offered students support in emails to their communities.
“We must more than ever dedicate ourselves to valuing and supporting one another through these tough days,” said Mary Lui, head of Timothy Dwight.
Lui said she remains confident in the Yale community’s ability to remain strong and continue its commitments to public service and social justice.
Head of Pierson College Stephen Davis sent a similar message to Pierson students Wednesday while acknowledging the implications of Trump’s victory.
“I don’t have any ready-made answers. What I do know is this: in a country that has demonstrated a callous disregard for its most vulnerable citizens, where its people too often fail to live up to their collective civic duty to be their brother’s or sister’s keeper, you have a place here in this University,” he wrote.
All 12 residential college heads joined Yale leaders in offering students the opportunity to talk individually or in a group about their feelings and thoughts after the election.
Yale’s dean’s excuse policy, as posted online, allows exemption only for situations of illness, death of a family member or “comparable emergency” such as varsity athletic events and the observance of religious holy days.