A Petition Goes Viral Over Online Classes

NJCU Students React as University Combats COVID-19 Concerns


Haresh Oudhnarine

The main entrance to NJCU is locked due to the virus. Photo by Haresh Oudhnarine.

As the Coronavirus spreads rapidly, a call for action against online classes has emerged. More than 2,000 signatures amassed on an NJCU Student Pardon petition on change.org in less than 24 hours. 

The petition called for students to be heard during a very troublesome time. It said, “Students and student organizations hereby advocate for the immediate end of the semester and for students to be given passing grades.” 

The petition concluded with, “We are asking that New Jersey City University President and administration consider pardoning every student, leaving them free to care for and protect their families.” In an update, the petition creators proposed the idea of a grade curve. 

This came after President Sue Henderson addressed all members of the NJCU community through email on March 19th that the university would switch instruction to an online format in order to take preventative measures from COVID-19. President Henderson said, “Based on new guidelines at the federal and state level, NJCU has decided to suspend all in-person instruction for the remainder of the spring semester.” 

As of March 23, 2020, the NJCU petition accumulated 2,744 signatures. 

A glimpse of the petition with over 2,000 signatures.

Many universities across the country are giving their students a pass/fail option during this tumultuous time, including George Washington University (GWU) located in Washington D.C. An email sent out to GWU students said, “In light of the challenges you are facing this semester, the university has made some adjustments to academic policy in our various schools. Importantly, these adjustments include the option for must undergraduate courses to be taken pass/no pass. Some exceptions apply.” This email also mentioned that students can still take the class for a letter grade if they desire to. 

Kean University, New York University (NYU), and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) are all considering similar options. Kean and VCU are exploring the pass/fail options, the same as NJCU is. NYU has updated its pass/fail policies for their students in response to COVID-19. 

Freshman and Art Illustration major, Emily Rodriguez said in a phone interview, “I honestly can’t even have thoughts on switching to online classes, because my major classes CANNOT be done in an online setting. I cannot even complain as much as juniors and seniors in my major, as they have a majority of art classes. Even for classes like computer graphics and 3D design, students lose access to major resources like scanners, Mac computers, and Photoshop that are far too expensive for a college student to afford.”

In an email interview, Desiree Wright, a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Women and Gender Studies said, “Wednesday, March 4, 2020, I celebrated my 22nd birthday. Thursday, March 5, 2020, I spent what I did not know then, as my last time in class as an undergraduate. With the coronavirus arising in America, it unmasks all the truths to how dysfunctional the government is and each system under them including colleges.  My trust in the government was lost years ago, learning as a black female, the constitution was never meant to protect me in the first place.” 

Wright added, “Online classes are designed for people who can handle this type of discipline. Personally, I can not focus with online classes because that is not how I retain information.” 

University Responds to PetitionーMarch 20

The following day, Provost and Senior Vice President Tamara Jhashi sent a lengthy email to the NJCU community addressing the situation. 

Jhashi acknowledged that the transition to online learning is bound to be rough for students and staff, but the faculty is “working tirelessly this week to make the transition to a virtual semester in order to see, speak, and engage with students using Blackboard and Zoom.” Jhashi also ensured that technology should not be a barrier for students and that the university “will do whatever we can so that it becomes a conduit to learning.” 

Jhashi continues that no colleges in New Jersey have “‘canceled the semester’ and given passing grades to end the term.” She also mentions that pass/fail grades can pose certain threats to a student’s academics. The university has requested for faculty to allow for “flexibility in this new environment.”

Petition Creators Reinforce PurposeーMarch 21

Nevin Perkins, a junior majoring in English, minoring in African American studies and the Op/Ed editor at The Gothic Times, is the creator of the NJCU Student Pardon petition. A few other students have also assisted Perkins with the petition. 

Hashtag that was created by Perkins.

Perkins said, “Myself, with a few students, began #NJCUSTUDENTPARDON as a response to both the global pandemic we are facing as well as the lack of empathy exhibited by the University. Students deserve the right to have a say in whether or not we will continue our semester and how things will take place. Online instruction is not a system that appears to be suitable for students, certain classes, departments, (STEM, art, etc), and even professors. Often times, as it is in the nature of capitalism, I believe universities forget that the voice of the student, who gets diminished as a consumer, should be the primary voice. We pay for the engine, or institution rather, to keep going. Therefore we deserve a seat at the table. We hope to achieve this not for just the predicament of student pardoning but for future matters to come.”

Calling themselves the Committee of the NJCU Student Pardon, the creators of the petition regularly update signers on their mission and thank them for the 2,000 signatures. The most recent update said, “Let it be understood, above all we are asking for a seat at the table. As students, we deserve the right to determine our own future.”

The committee calls into question how students who do not have viable access to the internet and the necessary technology are to be successful in online classes as well as be able to complete assignments as the state of New Jersey transitions into a lockdown. Governor Murphy instructs the shutdown of libraries and college computer labs on March 21, 2020.  

The committee supports students who have lost their jobs due to the ongoing pandemic, students in financial dilemmas, students who are parents, and students who have been thrown into “family predicaments.”

With all cases considered, a solution is proposed for there to be a grade curve in the spring semester. The committee said, “We advocate for a universal learning curve of 10% (if you earn a B you’ll receive an A).”

The NJCU Community Adapts to an Online Spring Semester 

Abisola Gallagher, the director of Counseling and Wellness services said the center will be able to help students who need counseling. She said, “We are still having sessions with ongoing clients either by telephone or video sessions. We will no longer offer ongoing weekly counseling sessions to students, except for students we have previously had as clients. Also, we will continue to offer support to the NJCU student community through our Let’s Talk service via telephone. This is a 25-minute same-day appointment to address a specific problem or concern with a counselor on duty. Let’s Talk was offered for the first time this semester and is a service that is now being offered to students on a growing number of university and college campuses. We will send a letter to students this week to inform them of this service available to them.” 

Gallagher further explained that the Counseling Center will possibly offer online workshops as stress management. Students can contact the Counseling Center at (201) 200-3165. 

Linda Casbon, a professor in the Ceramics Department, discussed the challenges which come along with moving a ceramics course online. She said, “Ceramics as a medium is about as hands-on as it gets. There is no way to convey and experience its tactile qualities without actually feeling the material.” 

Looking at the positive aspects of the situation, Casbon continues, “I feel fortunate that my students have had a chance to get a feel for the material and its possibilities and to see some of their projects completed. Although I’m disappointed that the semester could not continue on its scheduled trajectory, I have to view the second half of the semester as offering different opportunities. There is so much to learn and know. I am excited about sharing podcasts, videos, and readings with the class and hoping that it will enrich what they’ve already learned and lure them back to take more classes.”

Assistant Professor in the English Department, Caroline Wilkinson said, “I have never taught online before so this has been quite a challenge for me to learn how to do so effectively. It is going to be a process. A lot of my NJCU colleagues have been incredibly helpful so that has helped the change.”

Desiree Wright, the NJCU senior majoring in Psychology said, “There are hundreds of work study students out of a job and for the majority this was our only source of income. Friday March 20, 2020 my timesheets were approved in a timely fashion, but I did not receive my paycheck. I was told by several students they also did not receive pay…As an upcoming graduate, the virus spread has completely broken my faith to continue this semester. The communication from NJCU can definitely be improved. Although this matter is out of the control of the school, the school is making the situation worse by the indirect wording in emails. As students, graduation is not a ceremony to brag about receiving our diploma, it’s so much more. Graduation day for a lot of people was the only motivation keeping us in school on the days we felt like giving up. This entire situation is mentally, physically, emotionally and financially draining. All I ask as a tuition-paying student from NJCU, is better communication, sympathy for students’ grades, and support for our wellbeing.”

Similarly, Samey Sabbagh, a freshman majoring in Biology said, “It defeats the purpose of the class. People already have enough on their plate: kids, family, and work are all under heavy pressure on everyone. Also, not all classes are suited to be an online class.” 

Rana Ibrahim, a senior and Marketing major, signed the petition and explains how her life has changed due to COVD-19. Ibrahim said, “It is unfortunate that this university is going to keep classes open even online. I’m having family members who are going through a rough period of time at the moment, as well as me with unemployment and the burden of having to take care of myself as well as those within my household.”

Ibrahim adds that students do not have the necessary resources that are required for online instruction, and professors are not experienced enough when it comes to offering online lectures.

As of March 23, 2020,  according to nj.com, there are a total of 2,844 positive cases for COVID-19 and 27 deaths. Please take the following precautions as stated by CDC: Avoid close contact with others and touching your face. Also, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer that includes at least 60% alcohol, and quarantine as needed.

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