Instructors offer support as nationwide protests upend final weeks of quarter

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As protests spread throughout the United States, some Stanford instructors have reached out to their students to show support, offering extensions and assistance for their final assignments. 

At a town hall event on Monday, Provost Persis Drell said that the University is “encouraging its instructors to be as flexible as possible and extend empathy and understanding to students who are finding this moment difficult” in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by police last week in Minneapolis. 

“We’re also encouraging instructors to be transparent about the final course requirements and grading so that students who are already under great stress are not further burdened by uncertainties about what they have to do to complete their coursework,” Drell added.

A Google Doc of ways students can email their advisors to encourage accommodations as well as ways people can make personal donations is currently circulating among students. 

Already, some classes have made their final assignments and class meetings optional, or canceled them altogether. 

Instructors for large core classes in the computer science department have reached out to students offering accommodations. 

Instructors for CS 106B: Programming Abstractions — lecturers Chris Gregg and Julie Zelensky ’89 M.S. ’96, along with head teaching assistant Nick Bowman ’19 M.S. ’20 — have extended the deadline for the class’ penultimate assignment and made the final assignment and section completely optional. 

CS 106A: Programming Methodology professors Mehran Sahami ’92 M.S. ’93 Ph.D. ’99 and Chris Piech ’10 M.S. ’11 Ph.D. ’16, as well as head teaching assistant Brahm Capoor ’19 M.S. ’20, reached out to students late Saturday night to express their cumulative grief. 

“We are here to listen to you and to help however we can,” the teaching team wrote. “We know that the tragic events of the past few days have impacted all in some way, and some in much deeper ways. First and foremost, take care of yourselves and your loved ones.”

They told students that their main priority was to teach, not to grade, and that they are willing to help students in any capacity as they collectively navigate this challenging time. 

Computer science senior lecturer Jerry Cain reached out to his CS 110: Principles of Computer Systems students with similar rhetoric. 

“Many of you have emailed me in the past few days asking for accommodations, and in all cases I’ve granted them,” Cain wrote. “But I shouldn’t be requiring you to email me, particularly if you’ve been directing your mental and physical energies towards more important matters.”

Adjustments to CS 110 include extending the deadline on current assignments, as well as making this week’s section optional for attendance. 

“Understand that CS 110 shouldn’t be a priority right now,” Cain told students. “I will do everything I can to help when you’re ready to come back.” 

Structured Liberal Education (SLE) professor Jeremy Sabol sent an email to his students Saturday voicing the SLE teaching team’s distress surrounding the killing of George Floyd and the national protests that have followed. 

“It’s hard to process, hard to know how best to react, and hard to think about other things,” Sabol wrote. “If you feel like you’ve not made much progress on your papers this week because of this, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your section leader directly.”

Sabol encouraged students to reach out to him, whether it be for any concerns regarding the course or if they just hoped to talk. 

The THINK 65: Preventing Human Extinction teaching team sent out a Canvas announcement to their students Monday morning stating that the week’s lectures and quizzes are now optional. 

“We’ll continue to deliver our lecture sessions as planned, and we’ll still deliver quizzes on the material,” the announcement read. “However, the quizzes for this week (at least) will be optional, and if you do not feel you can focus on lectures, we will not expect you to attend.” 

The teaching team further pledged their allyship to the Black community and acknowledged the emotional hardships Black students are facing. 

One of the first instructors to offer public support was Hakeem Jefferson, a Black assistant professor in the political science department. On Friday night, Jefferson tweeted an open letter to students. 

“Tonight, as I prepare to go to bed, my heart breaks for all of us who live in the shadows of this country’s racist past and its racist present,” he wrote. “It breaks for the moms and dads forced to explain to their children that, because of the color of their skin, they have got to be extra careful all the time, lest they become another hashtag. And even when they are as careful as can be, there can be no guarantee that they won’t face the same unfortunate fate visited upon those who commit the age-old crime of being born Black in America — a crime punishable by death in so many corners of this country.”

“I wish I could give you optimism,” he continued. “I wish I could tell you that history suggests things always get better. To be sure, they often do, but optimism isn’t quite what I want to offer you. I want to offer you something slightly better, instead. I want to offer you a reminder that you are more powerful than you know. A reminder that you, with all of your brilliance, with all of your intellect, with all of your strength — you have the power to imagine and create new realities.”

Contact Jenna Ruzekowicz at jruzekow ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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