Why Do Some Chinese Students Oppose Universal Pass Grading?


Krystal Zhou ’22
Guest Contributor
April 23, 2020

This article does not represent the author’s personal opinions on the policy.

The discussion surrounding universal pass grading has quickly become heated over the past week. On April 21, Scripps Associated Students (SAS) stated their support for the policy and opened a forum for further questions regarding their stance.

Several students opposed to Universal Pass spoke up on the forum. Some opinions included complaints that the policy does not solve inequality, concerns that it is unfair to students who have been working hard, and accusations that SAS did not choose to represent the most popular opinions in their survey (with 27 percent supporting Universal Pass).

Among these virtual discussions, one Scripps student posted vicious comments, using disrespectful language to express their frustrations. This person, later identified as a Chinese international student, has since faced criticism from classmates calling them inconsiderate of their fellow students.

In response to this incident, SAS responded that this person should try to “take care of their mental health” as “they seem pretty stressed out.” After SAS closed the forum, the debate continued on Instagram, where supporters of Universal Pass at Scripps had been extremely vocal long before those opposed to it began to form a presence.

As a member of the Scripps community, I do not wish to see a more vicious debate on a topic that alleges to focus on protecting people rather than hurting them. Moreover, as a Chinese student who has witnessed the escalation of this debate, I do not want to see more Chinese students attacked for their beliefs.

With that, I want to explain to all my fellow students the reasons why some Chinese students reject the Universal Pass policy.

The primary reason is, on some level, cultural. Many might be aware that Chinese culture as a whole puts high value on good grades. While this does not mean that all Chinese students are grade-obsessed, it does mean that if the policy were passed, some Chinese students would be in a position to be discriminated against in their home community.

Universal Pass might be explainable to some law schools and graduate schools in the US, but it is not yet acceptable to schools and employers (or even parents) in China. Much of the discussion on campus has concerned graduate programs and universities in the US and western countries, alienating international students for whom a pass could put them at a severe disadvantage.

Secondly, the exceptionally high social and financial cost that International Chinese students pay to be here is made with the understanding that academic achievement is crucial to a Scripps College education. International Chinese students are burdened with additional expenses and academic complications compared with domestic students. Some students decided not to fly back because of the 17-hour time difference. Staying here, alone, dealing with fear and pressure in the pandemic, seems too high a cost to merely receive a Pass on their transcript.

“If the students [had] pushed for this policy sooner, I would have gone home,” said one anonymous International Chinese student at Claremont.

Coming from a background with extreme competition in society makes it natural for Chinese students to believe that simply working harder when put at a disadvantage is the correct response. The common cultural view is that because the social hierarchy will exist with or without coronavirus, the way to overcome it is to work harder. Regardless of how true that belief is, the mindset still puts pressure on these international students.

Of course, members of every culture have differing views from one another and the same is the case when it comes to support of Universal Pass. This article merely serves to provide cultural context to understand where international students, particularly Chinese students, may be coming from when they oppose Universal Pass.

I urge the Scripps and broader Claremont community to remain respectful in the face of diverse beliefs on this matter. No matter the result of Scripps’ grading policy decision, we should always try to work together toward a more supportive Scripps Community.

Image Credit: The Daily Pennsylvanian

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