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Hundreds of students petition for academic accommodations in light of recent police brutality

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Students are petitioning for academic accommodations in light of recent incidents of police brutality and racial injustice that have led many students to engage in heated protests and activism

A petition demanding that the University provide students with academic accommodations circulated through social media platforms and group messages, gathering over 720 signatures in less than four hours on Wednesday. 

Students expressed concerns about their ability to invest themselves in academic work given the recent death of George Floyd and the movement against police brutality that many students have joined in response. Some students said they were specifically worried about their Black peers navigating academic work during this time.

“To be frank, the world is on fire,” the petition states, calling attention to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, stating they have made “the anti-Black racism and discrimination in this country painfully hypervisible.”

The petition points to Stanford students who have been participating in demonstrations, saying, “These students have been met with police violence and brutality, attacks from white supremacists and threats from law enforcement.”

“Those of us who aren’t at the protests are spending our time volunteering for our communities — providing food and water, cleaning up the streets, fundraising for bail funds and community organizations,” the petition adds. “For many of us, schoolwork is the last thing on many of our minds.”

The petition calls for three immediate changes, the first of which relates to grading requirements. The petition calls for changing the threshold for a satisfactory grade from C- to D-, as well as “removing attendance requirements for weeks 8 through 10 from grade calculation.”

Signatories also demand changes to the final assignment requirements, “making final assignments, examinations and projects optional or swapping them out for lower-stakes, non-cumulative assignments.”

The petition finally asks the University to allow assignments with deadlines from Week 8 to be turned in up to the last day of classes.  

The petition was created “by a group of concerned, mostly black students,” Cameron Woods ’20 told The Daily.

“We aren’t removed from the issues that we advocate and speak out about,” Woods added. “We are in the thick of it. This isn’t about, lending support to ‘those black students over there’, we ARE those black students. We are writing and advocating while simultaneously being bombarded with racial discrimination and violence. All while finals is happening. And that perspective shift is IMPORTANT. Our pain is important.”

Who’s Teaching Us (WTU) helped promote the petition, criticizing Stanford for a lack of support for the Black community, stating “Who’s Teaching Us demands more from Stanford faculty and Administration … there is no Stanford without its students.” While the petition had not been released at that point, WTU encouraged students to reach out to their professors demanding accommodations. 

According to signatories to the petition, for many students nationwide and even internationally, schoolwork is the last thing on their minds. Although many professors have already made generous accommodations on their own for their students, the petition calls for the University administration to take a universal approach to providing students with accomodations. 

ASSU Senator Gabby Crooks ’23 signed the petition and hopes the University will support a universal pass, a system under which all students will receive a pass.  

“I am a strong advocate for providing accommodations for all students, but especially Black students, for which this has been truly exhausting,” Crooks wrote in a statement to The Daily.

Reflecting on her own experience in the last week, Crooks said, “Things have begun to feel overwhelming, I work a part-time job remotely, I assumed Senate responsibilities almost immediately, and a lot of major projects have had deadlines … I was and am stressed.” 

“I’m Black before I’m a student, and that has never been more true,” said Ophelia Washington ’23, a student activist in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

“My role as an activist is coming before being a student as well,” Washington added. “This is extremely difficult going into finals. Either I’m protesting and prepping materials or I’m writing essays, I feel selfish when I take breaks … I suppose ‘breaks’ have become another luxury for white students.”

Another student in Minneapolis, Sophis Manolis ’23, wrote, “Because nearly all of our stores and businesses closed, we have been bringing food and essential supplies all over the city just to make sure people are able to sustain basic standards of living.” 

Manolis, who has written for The Daily, is another student in support of a universal pass for “at the minimum” all Black students within the University. 

“It feels like there are so many urgent things to do right now, and school is honestly the last thing on my mind,” Manolis wrote. 

ASSU Director of Communications Cricket X. Bidleman ’21, who signed the petition herself, wrote, “A lack of understanding and empathy are not helpful in these strange circumstances, and some adaptation of courses is a good idea since current events have been so negatively impactful.”

Young Jean Lee, an associate professor of theater and performance studies, was the first faculty member to sign the petition. 

“My Black students say that a majority of their professors, instead of supporting them in this traumatic time, are serving up yet more anti-Blackness in the form of: putting them on the spot by asking them to speak about racism to their fellow students, failing to address what’s happening at all, and/or responding to their pleas with an attitude of ‘That’s all very sad, but you still need to finish your work,’” Lee wrote in a statement to The Daily.  

Lee said she has been openly speaking with her students about the University’s lack of action for accommodations and echoing the sentiments of one of her students who said, “If you’re not actively supporting the dismantling of anti-Black racism, you’re being anti-Black.” 

Lee also said she understands the problems the administration would face by adjusting policies this close to the end of the quarter. 

But, she added, “What does it say about us if we ignore their pleas?”

When contacted for comment, the University referred The Daily to an email sent out by Provost Persis Drell on May 29.

“As always, please remember that there are support systems available to you on campus even if you are physically elsewhere,” the email reads. “We are here to help in these extraordinarily difficult times.”

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda referred to previous comments from Drell, who said at a recent town hall 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.”

Miranda also cited a message from the Office of the Vice Provost of Graduate Education, which said that the provost had asked school deans to share guidelines with instructors. The guidelines encouraged transparency around grading, “so that students who simply aren’t in a position to focus on academic work know what they still need to do to pass,” as well as offering “other accommodations if your class pedagogy and structure permit. Remember that these accommodations must be available to all students in the class. Not all students will feel comfortable asking for consideration, and there are issues of fairness.”

“If the University is to truly substantiate its stated solidarity with the Black community and communities afflicted by racism, it must support its own students,” the petition concludes. “Do not tell us that student wellbeing matters to you, show us.”

This article has been corrected to reflect that the petition was mainly created a group of primarily black students, not Who’s Teaching Us. The Daily regrets this error.

This article has been updated to reflect a response from University spokesperson E.J. Miranda and to include quotations from Cameron Woods.

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

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