“I was thinking that this is a very good idea, and I’m not tech savvy,” Grossman said. “Kristen (Hines) stepped up, so from there we’ve been really going at it.”
Hines, majoring in psychology and chemistry, said a significant distinction in their request is that students would have the option to choose for themselves whether they would like to pass/fail their classes. This would apply to major and pre-requisite classes.
“Ideally, it would be one of those situations where you have the option to pass/fail once you found out what your grades were at the end of this semester,” she said.
But the petition is not suggesting for all students to choose this option.
Grossman said if their requests are implemented, students who would still like their grades to be factored into their GPA can choose to do so.
Hines and Grossman said that the University cannot reasonably expect students to perform at the same level as before. They mentioned that some students may not learn as well online, may not have a quiet place to study or may not have access to on-campus resources they were accustomed to.
UNC Media Relations responded on behalf of the University with an emailed statement about the petition.
"As this is a rapidly evolving situation, the University is continuously evaluating all options in order to provide the best possible solutions to help our students succeed in spite of the current global health emergency," Media Relations said in the email. "University leadership will update the campus community as any decisions are made."
Both Hines and Grossman said that the reality of the global pandemic can prevent students from performing at their full capacity.
“It’s all a very anxiety-inducing situation and, frankly, my mind has not been with it for academics,” Hines said. “It is not fair to have the same sort of expectation of students when there is this much mental capacity going simply toward, 'What is going to happen in the next 48 hours?'”
These expectations are also compounded for out-of-state and international students, they said.
Grossman, a New York native, said he came home for spring break without his textbooks, computer or school supplies, making it challenging for him to complete assignments that will be due when classes resume next week.
From Washington state, Hines said it’s unfair that she would be expected to complete her school work, attend class and take exams given a three-hour time difference. This is even more challenging for international students from Asia, she said, who may be stranded in the U.S. and separated from their families.
“How is it deemed fair that the person, because of where they are from, needs to perform at a different level than a person who is waking up at a normal time,” Grossman said.
After the University announced that most classes would be offered remotely, many professors have been transitioning to deliver their classes over Zoom, an online video-conferencing platform.
“When you are in a small class, maybe you go up to the professor after class,” Grossman said. “Maybe something comes up in the spur of the moment. When you’re online, it’s just not the same. It’s a lot different when I'm sitting here in my bed versus in a classroom.”
Classes that require in-class participation and collaboration, like many STEM and business courses, could also present challenges when they go online.
“It is just not a feasible situation,” Hines said. “But I want to iterate that this is not on professors. They did not plan for this, and they shouldn’t have to because these classes were not traditionally offered online.”
Some argue that offering a pass/fail option would encourage students to slack off for the remainder of the semester. But Hines and Grossman said they are both high-achieving students, and that this option would only help minimize added stress that they are experiencing because of the pandemic.
“I’m not trying to take the easy way out, but I'm sitting here in this situation where no matter how hard I try, I might not thrive as well because of these weird and unforeseen circumstances,” Hines said. “I worry about not being able to work at that level.”
Sophomore Drew Ritzel, majoring in business administration, created his own petition on Tuesday before discovering and signing the one that Hines and Grossman posted. He said he started it after seeing that students at UNC-Charlotte had made one for the same reason.
“I think people are going to be really adversely affected by this remote learning despite how well it could possibly be implemented,” Ritzel said.
Grossman said he urges UNC to be one of the first few to move the national conversation about valuing the mental health of its students during this pandemic forward.
Other universities — like Georgetown University and Carnegie Mellon University — have already decided to allow students to opt in to pass/fail grading for the rest of the semester. Duke University is also transitioning all Spring 2020 courses from grade letters to satisfactory/unsatisfactory, along with suspending Dean’s List for this semester.
Grossman said that people should sign the petition if they value their peers’ mental health, whether or not they plan to pass/fail their own classes.
“We need to not think of this as a blanket situation where everyone is going through the same thing,” he said. “I think that’s the key thing of this petition. If you don’t necessarily need it, sign it for the person next to you. Sign it for the person who does need it.”