More than 1,300 Oberlin students have signed a petition demanding grade forgiveness in the upcoming round of final exams for students, especially students of color, who are too emotionally upset about the issues of racial injustice in America highlighted by the cases of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner. The petition states:
“Basically, no student especially black students and students of color should be failing a class this semester. A “C” should be the lowest grade students can receive this semester.”
According to a student publication, “The administration has agreed to exercise flexibility in granting emergency incomplete requests for students struggling academically,” but, “a number of students have accused the institution of extending little other support for those who have been disproportionately affected.”Student Della Kurzer-Zlotnick was unsatisfied by the college administration’s level of response, and decided to push further. She emailed one of her professors asking for a suspension of exams on the basis of the trauma her classmates have suffered, as, she notes, Columbia Law School has already done. But, she didn’t get the reply she was looking for:When Ms. Kurzer-Zlotnick posted a screenshot of the above email chain on Facebook in an apparent attempt to name and shame her interlocutor, she included a trigger warning for “violent language regarding an extremely dismissive response from a professor.” So clearly she is hyper-aware of the potential feelings of her classmates.Less clear is whether she is also aware of the fact that over 30,000 people per year die in car crashes in the US alone. Or if she is aware that the infant mortality rate in childbirth is north of ten percent in many places around the world? Presuming she is at least somewhat aware of the existence of such large-scale problems, what does the logic she is employing suggest society should look like? If the deaths of three men, including deaths at the at the hands of racist officers of an unjust or biased system, should bring the operations of an institution so important as a venerable college to a halt, what should our response be to the ugly world we all inhabit every day? Should everybody live out life in the fetal position?To be fair, however, the issue here is not the thinking of one young woman, who is entitled to think through how to respond to upsetting issues as she sees fit. No, the preponderance of this kind of fallacious nonsense on Oberlin’s campus and many others demonstrates a real failure on the part of the universities to instruct their students.The issue of racial injustice is America’s oldest and deepest wound, and it’s not one that is going to simply go away any time soon. The world is often a cold and dark place we all must navigate. Universities are charged with teaching our young people how to deal with the realities of the life they are going to face. Their students must be vested with the emotional maturity and the self-discipline to handle what comes at them, not all of which is going to make them feel good. When the graduates of our nation’s august educational institutions like Oberlin move out into the world and the workplace, they will be expected to do their work, day in and day out, regardless of the horrors on the front page of the newspaper. And if they so choose to work at so truly noble a task as working against racial injustice in America, they will, and should, be asked this all the more.The kind of thinking exhibited by the Oberlin petition’s authors and supporters is not actually part of the solution, it’s part of the problem.