Students at Oberlin College are asking the school to put academics on the back burner so they can better turn their attention to activism. More than 1,300 students at the Midwestern liberal arts college have now signed a petition asking that the college get rid of any grade below a C for the semester, and some students are requesting alternatives to the standard written midterm examination, such as a conversation with a professor in lieu of an essay.
The students say that between their activism work and their heavy course load, finding success within the usual grading parameters is increasingly difficult. "A lot of us worked alongside community members in Cleveland who were protesting," Megan Bautista, a co-liaison in Oberlin's student government, said, referring to the protests surrounding the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a police officer in 2014. "But we needed to organize on campus as well — it wasn't sustainable to keep driving 40 minutes away. A lot of us started suffering academically."
The student activists' request doesn't come without precedence: In the 1970s, Oberlin adjusted its grading to accommodate student activists protesting the Vietnam War and the Kent State shootings, The New Yorker reports. But current students contend that same luxury was not granted to them even though the recent Rice protests were over a police shooting that took place just 30 miles east of campus.
"You know, we're paying for a service. We're paying for our attendance here. We need to be able to get what we need in a way that we can actually consume it," student Zakiya Acey told The New Yorker. "Because I'm dealing with having been arrested on campus, or having to deal with the things that my family are going through because of larger systems — having to deal with all of that, I can't produce the work that they want me to do. But I understand the material, and I can give it to you in different ways."