Amid uncertainty, students create petitions to have say in their semester plans

While some App State students slept in or explored somewhere new over spring break, others planned what their new semester, shifted by COVID-19, could look like. 

On March 11, the university announced an extended spring break and online instruction starting March 23 in an email. Another email from the university sent on March 18 said “we will return to in-person instruction as reasonably possible,” and encouraged students to take classes at home. 

Leaving class curriculum, extracurriculars and spring commencement up in the air, students created, and are still sharing, petitions to have some say in the rest of their semester. 

Many petitions can be found on the Facebook group App State Classifieds, including one to provide the option to switch the grading scale to the Pass or Fail system and another trying to postpone commencement rather than a virtual ceremony, all due to COVID-19. 

When senior exercise science major Joey Martin heard about petitions regarding the future of spring semester circling the internet, he took his opinion to where many in the Boone community do: App State Classifieds.

In his post, Martin said that the Pass or Fail system isn’t ideal for students in science-related fields planning on applying to graduate school, because GPA is a huge factor in admissions. 

“I speak of science majors simply because that’s my major, and that’s what I have knowledge of. I cannot personally support this idea as I know the negative consequences it would have on me and many of my classmates, as we begin the process of applying to grad schools,” Martin said. 

Martin’s post was met with agreements and criticisms alike.

“THANK YOU!!!! THANK YOU!!!! The graduate programs that I am applying to look at the whole package,” Kyera Mccrimmon wrote, in agreement with Martin. 

App State graduate school admission criteria require either a 3.0 GPA in the last earned degree and official scores from admission tests or a 2.5 GPA in the last earned degree and official scores at the 25th percentile level from an admission test.

Specific to a master’s in psychology, a program in the science field, the degree course website reads that “Both qualitative and quantitative aspects of applications are reviewed in comparison to the current applicant pool.”

“Call me crazy but something tells me grad schools are gonna be aware that a nationwide pandemic had major effects on this (and maybe next) semester,” Tim Reis wrote. 

Martin said he trusts App State, the UNC system and his professors to make the right decisions, despite his frustrations. 

“Online classes are very rarely an option for our major and many of our classes have labs associated. This transition will be very challenging and even though the P/F system doesn’t sound too bad, it would have major effects for those who are depending on these grades for admission,” Martin said.

Megan Hayes, associate vice chancellor and chief communications officer, wrote in an email that the university is aware of the recent petitions and has “been responding individually to emails about these matters since they were started.”

The Office of the Provost sent an email to students on March 27 acknowledging alternative grading systems, such as the Pass/Fail Option. 

“We are asking the Undergraduate and Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures committees (AP&P) to consider various options and make recommendations on how we should proceed. This should happen in the coming weeks,” Mark Ginn, vice provost for undergraduate education, wrote in the email.

Under this grading system, students can choose to keep their assigned grade at the end of the spring 2020 semester or opt-in for the Pass/Fail. 

Hayes said if passed, the grading system would only apply to spring 2020 graduates.

“Once we have a final decision, we will communicate it to campus,” Hayes said.

Renée Taylor, a risk management and insurance major, advocated for a petition about spring commencement’s movement online.

“Petition to have App move the graduation ceremonies before fall semester in August instead of canceling them altogether. I’ve worked too damn hard to not walk. I don’t care if it’s late and we have to wait this out (which I’m happy to do for the overall health of society) but the class of 2020 deserves a graduation at some point once we are back to normal,” Taylor wrote on App State Classfieds’ wall on March 16. 

Taylor’s post received over 500 “likes” and “hearts” supporting a petition that, at the time, wasn’t written. 

“Agree! I’ve worked my ass off,” Michelle Walker commented.

Stacy Pope wrote that she felt for seniors as a mother and that “we all should be very proud.”

“Totally agree! I’m an older student (25) and have worked so long and so hard to get here. “Some days, the mental image of walking across that stage to get my degree was all that kept me going. Class of 2020 deserves a graduation…even if it’s much later than originally planned!” Haven Jenkins commented. 

Jasmine Ahlgren created a petition to “Postpone Appalachian State University commencement instead of virtual commencement” soon after. The petition now has over 3,700 signatures. 

Ahlgren, a graduating senior, said she decided to start the petition in an attempt to hold on to the last thing left of her college career. 

“The sentimental importance and gravity of an in-person commencement ceremony are impossible to recreate virtually. Although we were given the option to walk in the December commencement ceremonies, it doesn’t feel like it truly belongs to us, the graduating class of Spring 2020.” 

The university announced in an email on March 23 that “Spring 2020 graduates will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual ceremony in May, and are also invited to participate in the Fall 2020 Commencement held in December.”