With our fellow Yale students dispersed all around the country and the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we at the News write with the hope that all of our peers are safe and healthy. We want to help chart what Yale will look like during this uncertain time by providing a student response to University policies.
The situation, in New Haven and across the globe, is urgent. On March 15, New Haven announced a state of emergency effective through September. All New Haven public schools are closed, affecting 21,600 students in the city. Earlier this week, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont ordered restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters to shut down. As of this morning, Connecticut had 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including one at Yale and at least three others in New Haven.
In light of the current situation, Yale’s immediate closure of campus life was necessary — in the face of global pandemic, anything short of swift action would have endangered the lives of people in the Yale and New Haven communities.
Unlike some of its peer institutions, Yale made clear it would not leave any student uncared for in its initial announcement to students asking them to leave campus. We appreciate that our administration made this promise during a moment of such tremendous crisis.
And yet, this initial correspondence generated confusion and alarm throughout the Yale community. In its earliest announcements, Yale did not mention accommodations for students on financial aid still on campus who could not afford to travel back home. It also gave no guidance to students who needed to pay their student income contribution. The administration’s announcement was especially disconcerting for students who rely on campus jobs that cannot be conducted remotely. We understand that this is a time like no other, demanding extreme measures that change on a daily basis. However, we believe that the University could have taken steps to reduce uncertainty and panic among students, making clear it was working to resolve these issues and ensuring that residential colleges were conveying uniform information to students.
Ultimately, Dean Marvin Chun informed students Yale would cover travel costs for those on financial aid who could not afford to return home. Two days after Yale administrators asked students to leave campus, they announced that supervisors should pay students for the rest of the term according to pre-spring break hours. Yale was one of the first institutions to provide these important accommodations for students, which alleviated considerable student stress during an otherwise extremely stressful time.
Yale also promised students on campus that it would refund campus room and board costs on a prorated basis, and we hope Yale will go about these refunds with the urgency and transparency they demand.
Yale students also remain in the dark about academic accommodations. As the Yale administration weighs different grading systems, it must consider the vast inequities students face at home. Simply extending the Credit/D/Fail deadline is not enough.
Campus life at Yale is designed to minimize disparities in student resources: We have access to the same libraries, internet connection, classrooms, basic health coverage and dining halls. With COVID-19 forcing everyone off campus, however, students are left with radically different resources to meet academic expectations. Educational disparities will certainly emerge along socioeconomic lines, with some students having high-speed internet access, and others not. Meanwhile, many public libraries and other public places where students once could access internet and educational resources are now closed. Some students will have quiet, private work environments in their homes, while others will not. The impact on academic outcomes, on both students’ grades and their ability to focus and learn — purely as a result of students’ different backgrounds and home lives — will be severe.
International students in different time zones now face major scheduling challenges, with classes and sections falling in the middle of the night or extremely early in the morning. Students whose parents or family members are healthcare providers need to be additionally vigilant about the virus. Other students will have to take on additional jobs as their parents are laid off or unable to work. And some have to care for family members due to new conditions under the virus — whether for those infected, for young siblings or for older relatives.
As a Board, we have taken into account the many considerations involved in making academic accommodations for students during this pandemic, including logistical concerns — how Yale will support students completing senior projects and applying to professional schools — and ideological hesitations about students’ inability to choose their grading mode in tandem with the unavoidable inequities the coronavirus has caused. But considering all of these issues, we as a Board have concluded that instituting the Universal Pass system — in which all students simply receive P’s on their transcript and credit for their classes — is the best course of action for Yale to take.
No student should fail because of this pandemic. Intense student debate — on social media and among our own Board — has emerged about what Yale should do about this issue. The time has come for Yale to institute the Universal Pass system. Doing so will allow students to focus on their mental and physical health and that of their families instead of on their GPAs — the value of which as a measure of educational achievement could be questioned at this moment. Instituting the Universal Pass will alleviate the stigma and stress of having a non-letter grade on one’s transcript, as well as effectively respond to the vast inequity generated by the COVID-19 crisis. The guaranteed pass should extend across all distributional and major requirements, so students don’t have to worry about their standing in their Yale education. This policy will only be successful if Yale explains its decision on every transcript.
Unprecedented times like these demand unprecedented measures by the University. It can be hard to find community and connection, and the pressure of academic achievement need not add to the difficulties that students are already facing. The News hopes it can serve as a place for students, faculty and New Haven community members alike to voice their feelings and concerns as we march through uncharted territory together.
The News’ View represents the opinion of the majority of the members of the Yale Daily News Managing Board of 2021.