Oberlin students say bad grades are getting in the way of activism

A profile in The New Yorker suggests that student protesters at Oberlin College had circulated a petition demanding that professors lower their grading standards so students could divert more attention to their social justice efforts.

“More than thirteen hundred students signed a petition calling for the college to eliminate any grade lower than a C for the semester, but to no avail,” the profile explains.

One of the writers of the petition explained the reasoning behind it, saying that she and her peers felt unsupported in their activism efforts.

“Students felt really unsupported in their endeavors to engage with the world outside Oberlin,” Megan Bautista told The New Yorker.

Meanwhile, one of Bautista’s compatriots noted that there are several other barriers to effective activism in addition to schoolwork, including probation and family problems.

“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 they want me to do,” student Zakiya Acey complained, though she insisted that “I understand the material, and I can give it to you in different ways.”

Yet, if history repeats itself, Oberlin’s administration could give way to some of the demands, as it did in the 1970’s, when the school adjusted its grading system to oblige protesters of the Vietnam War and the Kent State shootings.

Oberlin’s current president has allayed such concerns for the time being, going on record to say that some of his students’ demands are “deeply troubling.” Such demands, though, are not unusual at Oberlin, or indeed on other contemporary college campuses.

Last December, for instance, Campus Reform reported that student protesters had submitted a list of demands to their school’s president, including one calling for hourly monetary compensation for activists.

Earlier this year, activist students at Brown University voiced similar complaints, saying their schoolwork was interfering with their activism efforts.

“These are people breaking down, dropping out of classes, and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on,” one Brown student commented at the time. “My grades dropped dramatically. My health completely changed. I lost weight. I’m on antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills right now. Counselors called me. I had deans calling me to make sure I was okay.”

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