Madison Yarduman ’22
What started as a small collective of Scripps seniors of color requesting commencement fee refunds and Universal Pass for the senior class quickly evolved into one of the largest activist movements at Scripps to date.
According to Nobody Fails at Scripps organizers, their movement started as “an impromptu student response to the lack of clear institutional direction and support during the COVID-19 crisis.” This platform is denoted in their name and echoed in their Mission Statement: “We demand that no Scripps student fails. We ask for a humane response at this time of global crisis and uncertainty.”
With a movement numbering 140+ students and a large social media presence, Nobody Fails organizers advocated for a Universal Pass (UP) grading system for the Spring 2020 semester. UP garnered the highest level of support from students who are part of vulnerable population groups–including those who identify as low-income, first-gen, immuno-comprimised and/or disabled, international, financial aid and/or scholarship recipients, students in unsafe home environments, and students of color) according to a study conducted by Nobody Fails.
While the majority of Scripps faculty did not vote to adopt the UP grading system, the efforts of Nobody Fails have sparked conversation among students and faculty alike about issues including inequity within the education system, mechanisms of community support and solidarity, and the way institutions choose to respond to unprecedented situations.
In the wake of the faculty vote which rejected UP, key players in the final vote all have something different to say. According to Professor Stacey Wood, chair of the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC), which was tasked with devising a grading policy for the Spring 2020 semester, faculty want students to know that their decision was not made lightly.
“Multiple factors influenced faculty discourse including feedback from Scripps students and faculty and awareness of the approaches of other institutions, both in Claremont and in other parts of the country, said Professor Wood. “I can tell you that the faculty considered multiple perspectives and had robust discussion.”
The Scripps Administration wants to assure students that faculty were not coerced by administration or the Board of Trustees in coming to their decision.
“Over that last week I had a number of emails from students arguing many different positions about grading (including Universal Pass and as many, if not more, advocating for opt-in),” President Lara Tiedens said. “I believe more students engaged with faculty members, however, than they did with me, because they correctly understood that this was a faculty discussion and decision.”
In spite of Tiedens’ assertion that Scripps Administration played no hand in shaping the decisions of the FEC, President Tiedens co-authored an email to faculty with Amy Marcus-Newhall in which they called a proposed Universal A grading policy an act of “misrepresentation and deceit.”
In this email, Tiedens and Marcus-Newhall say if Universal A is passed, they will bring grading policy up as an issue to the Board of Trustees. Tiedens and Marcus-Newhall also anticipated a less than favorable response from the Board of Trustees’ regarding the Universal A grading policy, writing,
“We see it as likely that if the Board takes up the matter of the Universal A, it not only will reject the universal A but also will feel compelled to choose a different system on your behalf.”
Faculty did not respond to requests for comment about how this email shaped their decision-making process.
In spite of the faculty decision, the activists of Nobody Fails have stated that their work is far from done. Looking to the future, Nobody Fails has discussed their perspective on a multitude of COVID-19 related issues via their Instagram account, @nobodyfailsatscripps.
Organizers first faced the question of whether or not they would discourage students from opting in to letter grades as opposed to accepting the Pass (Pandemic)/No Credit system grades will otherwise default to. Organizers ultimately chose not to take a stance on whether students should opt-in to letter grades. Their Instagram post presented the pros/cons for each side.
While their post emphasized that they did believe taking courses Pass/Fail was a valuable way to practice solidarity, organizers also acknowledged that it is unclear how employers and graduate schools might respond to a student taking their courses Pass/Fail when the letter grade option exists.
Notably, organizers acknowledged that taking classes Pass/Fail is a private act between student/professor. Therefore, it does not have visible or leverageable implications for the institution the same way Universal Pass would.
“Consider your own needs, consider your community and if that means taking a pass/fail in solidarity or that means taking grades, so be it,” organizers said. “As one of our faculty mentors said, ‘the only bad decision is the one made out of fear, shame, or pride.’”
Nobody Fails also hopes to contribute to relief efforts for those most impacted by COVID-19 in our community. For this purpose, Nobody Fails created the Scripps Mutual Aid Fund, a non-reimbursement based fund specifically designed to help Scripps students pay off big expenses such as rent and medical fees. If you wish to make a donation to the fund, you can Venmo @ScrippsMutualAid-1.
While the focus of their movement up until this point has been on circumstances surrounding COVID-19, the organizers at Nobody Fails aim to slightly modify and expand their agenda for the upcoming semester.
“This pandemic has exacerbated many of the issues that students and residents of the United States face, and Scripps is not exempt from present inequalities,” organizers said. “We plan to shift our focus as the next semester approaches to seeing how accommodation policies at Scripps can be changed so that students can receive the care and attention needed from faculty and the administration to accommodate for personal strife that a student is facing.”
Nobody Fails’ future plans seem to be informed both by Scripps’ decision to respond to the pandemic with a universal policy, in addition to responses and feedback from the Student Body.
“A few students who were opposed to Universal Pass came to us and asked, ‘why now?’,” organizers said. “Almost every student, if not every, has faced hardship during their time at Scripps, or will, that has negatively impacted their ability to succeed to their full potential…Members of Nobody Fails are certainly among those students who have not received the level of accommodation necessary or requested in a time of need and we now completely understand that the policies in place need to change.”
While the organization has not yet discussed what grading policy they would advocate for if the semester were moved online or interrupted once again, their aim looking forward is to “be an advocate for what the student body needs and wants.”
What seems most clear about their mission going forward is that activists aim to ensure that Scripps is more accountable to its student body. And their idea of a path forward is in line with the values of their original Universal Pass movement–ensuring that in times of hardship, the success of students is not left up to the flexibility of individual professors.
When asked if they have advice for aspiring activists, the activists of Nobody Fails were eager to share words of encouragement.
“Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in and find the group of people who support your cause,” organizers said. “There would be no improvement in the world without people taking a stand when they noticed an injustice. Scripps would not have ended their contract with Sodexo without the members and supporters of Drop Sodexo, and the discussion of equitable grading policies, and accommodation policies in general, would have reached a stalemate long before the faculty vote.”
These efforts are important even if organizers do not ultimately achieve all that they set out to.
“Not getting the outcome you fought for does not mean that your work did not have an impact or that it is over. Your needs and efforts are not less valuable because they did not receive the respect they deserved or that you requested on your first try. Keep pushing forward.”
Image Credit: ThoughtCo