I’m a freshman. Perhaps aggressively so. I have never been to the Lower Arb. I’ve gotten lost in Anderson three times, two of which were on the same day. And I still find myself mystified by the vast breadth of pastries I see spread out before me at every mealtime. I might even go so far as to call myself a “freshie,” but that’s a bit too high school for my taste.
But I share with 3.7 million other Americans one crucial difference: after my last day of in-person learning in March, I passed the rest of my senior year in my basement, wrestling with whatever Google Classroom threw at me. My teachers struggled to match their lesson plans with the abrupt jettisoning of society-at-large. Eyestrain, headaches, and loneliness abounded; trivial busywork soon morphed into painful tests of endurance. I cannot remember how many times my friends and I had to console each other.
The federal government assured us over and over—almost mockingly— that the COVID-19 pandemic would be finished in a matter of weeks. But as the principal read my name in a YouTube video and I brushed the dog hair from my graduation gown, I knew what every one of my peers knew: our journey with mandatory online schooling was, at best, perhaps a quarter finished.
I know the detrimental effects of remote learning because they have been my reality for the better part of this year. That is why I was dismayed to learn that Carleton would be proceeding with regular grading this year.
There is not much “regular” about Carleton right now. Newcomers like myself must bear the brunt of social isolation—including the inability to meet many of our professors and advisors face-to-face and begin forming valuable relationships. The state of affairs is not much better for the rest of students. The Washington Post reported in July that depression and anxiety rates have soared in college students (a group already prone to depression and anxiety) since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It doesn’t help that online learning is scarcely an alternative to the in-person classes many students have come to expect. A Brookings Institution report in 2019 found that students taking online courses perform substantially worse than their in-person peers and are more likely to see worsened academic performance or even drop out. Every public figure on the face of the earth seems to agree that “we are living in unprecedented times,” which begs the question: Why are Carleton students still receiving standard grades?
Furthermore, the technology we now find ourselves universally reliant on is just not reliable. My computer broke down almost immediately after classes started and took weeks to replace. Logging into any class can often amount to a game of Russian Roulette with a spotty internet connection. And all of these problems presume access to technology in the first place, which is not a given either. A 2018 survey of college students found that a worrying 20% of respondents—most often low-income students or students of color—had trouble maintaining access to effective technology. These students were more likely to face lower grades. Carleton indeed provides some IT support, but what of the hundreds of students learning entirely remotely this year? It is unrealistic to expect the same technological stability from all students, much less to grade them accordingly.
Just as I never expected a Thursday in March to be my last real day of high school, no one here expected Zoom to edge out classrooms. In many ways, Carleton is handling the COVID-19 pandemic well: we have very few positive cases, and I seldom see any substantial violation of social distancing protocols. However, it is disappointing to see that grades remain in place despite the immense and obvious strain on students. As a newcomer to the Carleton community who has found much else to love here, I hope my school pursues more empathetic policies in the future.