Right before a student protest for the cancellation of finals in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak was scheduled to occur on campus, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) announced that all remaining classes were to be transitioned online.
Our professors rushed to put together a plan for how classes and finals were to be conducted online, and I found myself finishing a class presentation through a video conference on Zoom to over 100 students. The experience was jarring because most students were muted and had their cameras turned off. Although there was a private chat option available through Zoom, I already felt a sense of disconnect from my fellow students and from the instructor as well. At this time, this platform for learning was expected to be common usage for UCLA classes two weeks into April. Classes will now be held online until the end of spring quarter.
During this entire process, UCLA has acted without consulting students about their needs and opinions. Accommodations about final exams, essays, and projects were not made initially for students experiencing hardship, such as those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 fears and cannot afford to pay rent or for other necessities. After our student government, the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC), collected over 5,000 responses from students about hardships they were facing, UCLA Academic Senate sent out a message to faculty about offering alternative assessments or allowing students the chance to opt out of exams. When UCLA administrators decided to cancel the graduation ceremony for 2020 and move it online, over 10,000 students had to petition for the in-person event to be postponed rather than canceled entirely. The administrators promptly apologized and opened up a survey about students’ suggestions for the 2020 graduation ceremony on the school’s website. Our petitions for increased financial aid for graduate students and for a reduction of spring tuition have yet to have been addressed.
I will miss being able to study on campus in the library or in the food and coffee shops. I will miss being able to use the recreation center for sports and swimming. I will miss being able to go to the research center or to walk-in academic counseling. I will miss being able to use the school gyms or attend school events, especially considering that students are still paying spring fees for these services. Although many of these activities will remain unavailable for the entire duration of the pandemic, accommodations for any support academic-wise can be made with some logistical planning. For instance, since a lot of funding allocated towards the maintenance of campus is no longer in use, these fees could be used to provide students who request it Internet service for the upcoming three months of classes. Regarding health, students experiencing severe, flu-like symptoms who do not have health insurance should be either treated in the school’s clinics for free or given financial aid for treatment elsewhere.
What accommodations should be made, and how should these accommodations be carried out? The answer is simple: the best academic and health care support comes from a willingness to listen to students’ needs in the first place and their comments on what should be done.
Anh Nguyentran is a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles and a member of Young Invincibles’ Young Advocates Program.