September 8 was the second Academic Senate meeting of the school year. After two weeks of virtual instruction, there was much discussion during Tuesday’s Academic Senate. Topics discussed include ensuring economic and food security for students, changes to student transcripts amid the ongoing pandemic, the latest on a potential return to predominately in-person instruction at Stan State, and efforts to combat anti-Black racism.
Strives Towards Social Justice
Tuesday’s Academic Senate meeting concluded with a powerful conversation regarding social injustices in our community, and specifically on the Stan State campus, that lasted over 30 minutes, more time than any other topic that was discussed.
Conversation surrounding anti-Black racism and social injustices at this meeting was sparked by the social media hashtag "#ScholarStrike." The #ScholarStrike is a two-day initiative scheduled for September 8 and 9 made for members of higher education across the country to dedicate their time to raise awareness of social injustices in the United States.
The creators of the #ScholarStrike describe the movement as "both an action, and a teach-in. Some of us will, for two days, refrain from our many duties and participate in actions designed to raise awareness of and prompt action against racism, policing, mass incarceration and other symptoms of racism's toll in America."
Stan State psychology professor Dr. Aletha M. Harven contributed to the conversation, explaining that she had put on a two-day training in August to combat anti-Black racism because of the lack of progress that stemmed from previous meetings and conversations on the Stan State campus. "The reason I put it on is because I was sitting in meeting after meeting, on this campus actually, and nobody was naming it. Nobody was saying 'anti-Black racism,'" Harven said. "I wanted to have actual conversations that were authentic surrounding anti-Black racism since that is the issue... It was critical to talk about what is happening on the college campus."
Harven went on to say that anti-Black violence exists on most college campuses, including Stan State. Harven says that she feels that the issue of violence on campuses is being pushed aside when they should be at the forefront of conversations regarding social justice and racism, especially since it is a topic that people are passionate about. She recalled a scheduled one hour meeting she had during the two-day conference that went on for nearly two hours. "People want to talk about this and they want to know what can we do to address anti-Black racism."
Assistant Kinesiology professor Dr. Arya Alami explained that he is very determined to keep the conversation going between his students and him after hearing of some of their experiences, but he was uncertain on how exactly to have those conversations in his kinesiology courses with a limited and compact schedules, or if he should at all. "Students are paying for me to explain Newton's three laws of motion and how they apply to the human body, not to discuss race issue, but as a member of academia, I feel a responsibility to help enlighten them and to help them understand the universe at a university. I'm constantly trying to figure that out," Alami said.
"These issues are experienced by our students every single day... I don't know what the Black experience is [for students at Stan State], but I wonder if it is the same as the off-campus Black experience, and I think that's just as troubling," Alami continued. Alami says if the on and off campus experiences for Black Stan State students are the same, then he feels as if Stan State as a whole is doing a terrible job.
Ensuring Economic and Food Security for Students
One of the first topics of discussion came from Dr. Renato Alvim, Faculty Mentor Program board member, who provided an update on the Food Box Distribution that took place earlier in the day. Alvim reported that 59 food boxes were distributed to students, meaning that there is still a demand to be met on campus even with the majority of students away for the semester.
California Faculty Association (CFA) chapter president Dr. David Colnic also mentioned that the CFA Campus Cares fund is still providing small grants for students facing emergency needs. "This really does make a difference. We've found that the data has shown that these small loans in part have been able to keep our students in school and progressing towards towards graduation," Colnic said.
Colnic urged all faculty to spread the word on the Campus Cares fund and the bi-weekly food box distributions to their students as there may be many who could use the assistance.
Student Transcripts Amid Pandemic
Students have had different experiences while trying to adjust to distance learning. Because of the many issues that have become prevalent with this change, University Educational Policies Committee (UEPC) chair Cathlin Davis explained that the committee is looking at a temporary credit/no credit and withdraw policy for the Fall 2020 semester that would be similar to the one that was put in place for the Spring 2020 semester.
Davis also explained that there can be no credit or withdraw policies retroactively put in place for the Spring and Summer 2020 sessions. "Transcripts exist, they have been sent out, students have graduated in some cases. Changing anything in the summer grades requires moving all of the summer grades from the system, changing the options, reloading all of the summer grades. That is a workload that we can not expect from those in Enrollment Services... [so] grades [from those semesters] will stand."
Although grades can't be changed for classes and enrolled students as a whole, the same grade changing policy is still in place, which is that students can still file appropriate paperwork for potential, individual credit or grade changes.
Many students who were enrolled in courses during the Spring 2020 or Summer 2020 semesters may have noticed that their official academic transcripts state “Grades reported for Spring 2020 may reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic” under those semester’s grades. Davis says that an official statement regarding summer transcripts is in the works that will be similar to the one above.
Latest on Talks to Potentially Return to Campus
There are currently 55 in-person courses taking place at the main Stan State campus, along with a number of services. Talks about how the rest of the campus community could return to Stan State have been taking place since the campus shut down almost completely back in March.
Many K-12 learning institutions across the state and nation are beginning to slowly welcome students back into the classroom, but as for universities such as Stan State, there is still no timetable for a return.
Colnic reported to the Academic Senate that the local CFA and the Stan State campus have been unsuccessful in coming to an agreement as to an official return-to-campus plan. Colnic explained that once the health and safety of the campus community can be ensured, the CFA and Stan State can continue negotiations.
This brought up concern from Dr, Steven Wood, who is an associate professor in the criminal justice department and chairman of the Faculty Affairs Committee. Wood posed the question as to how issues in the Summer 2020 and Fall 2020 semesters will be prevented if the predominately virtual learning format must continue for the Spring 2021 semester.
"What has faculty governance and the administration learned from this experience? What worked? What didn't?," Wood asked. "Spring semester is just around the corner and my fear is that we're going into the Spring semester experiencing some of the very same problems we have been experiencing for the past six months."
Woods questions and concerns were unable to be answered at the moment because of time constraints, but were noted by President Ellen Junn and Provost Kimberly Greer who were in attendance.
The next Academic Senate meeting is scheduled for September 22.