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The return of Pass/Fail

The pass/fail option is back with some changes

As the winter semester begins and Concordia students return to classes, the pandemic’s second wave remains in full force. To help students cope through the stress of the pandemic, Concordia University has reintroduced a pass/fail option, which will be available for the fall 2020 and winter 2021 semester.

The option gives students the ability to change one of their grades in an eligible class from a standard letter grade, to a PASS grade. Choosing a pass will allow students to take a grade which does not affect their GPA.

In a statement made to The Concordian the university said, “Concordia has developed a set of compassionate measures to support students … including a pass/fail option for one eligible course for both the fall 2020 and winter 2021, the automatic conversions of eligible F grades to a DISC notation and simplified and flexible final exam deferral requests.”

The University introduced a similar option during the winter 2020 semester with one large difference: students could take advantage of the pass/fail option with as many eligible classes as they liked. But it was only intended as a measure to ease students through the sudden change to virtual classes.

“The unforeseen disruption brought on by the start of the pandemic in March 2020 led to exceptional measures following the unanticipated change from in-person to remote learning and exams in the middle of the winter 2020 term,” said Concordia’s statement.

Students are glad to see pass/fail return, but wish they knew about it at the beginning of the fall term.

“I’m glad that they gave the option but I wish there was more of a comprehensive plan before the end of term,” said Claire Dyment, a second year psychology student.

“I wish they had announced it and seen this was going to happen at the beginning of the term. A lot of people thought they were gonna do bad in certain classes so they dropped them, but they could have just passed.”

The initial removal of the pass/fail option was disappointing to many students, considering classes were still being held online. When a number of referendum questions were posed to students in a Concordia Student Union by-election last November, students were asked if they would like to see the pass/fail option return while classes remained online. With a 17.8 per cent turnout of Concordia’s student population voting to bring back pass/fail, 91.5 per cent of students taking part voted yes.

The change to only allowing one pass per term seems to be a decision that some students think is fair.

“I think one class is pretty good, if we had too much wiggle room kids will start taking advantage of it,” said Dyment.

Some were also worried about how being able to pass/fail all of their classes would affect their future.

“I personally think it’s difficult to say if it’s a good thing or not … we haven’t had the conversation about how pass/fail will impact students in the long term, if having a bachelor’s degree that has a lot of pass/fail courses in it will hinder your chances at employment … or graduate school in the future.” Said Aya Chkirate, a first year finance student at Concordia.

“But at the same time I think it’s a good thing for students. In the short term it lets students focus on courses that might be more difficult.” Chkirate continued.

Students will be able to exercise the pass/fail option for the fall 2020 term as of Jan. 18 on their MyConcordia page. The deadline to request a pass is Jan. 22, 2021 at 5 p.m EST.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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Concordia launches tool for Indigenous self-identification

“We are all working together towards greater retention, and that is done through support,” said Catherine Richardson, director of Concordia’s First Peoples Studies program.

Concordia has launched a new tool for Indigenous self-identification through MyConcordia. On the “My Student Centre” page, on the bottom left hand side under the personal information headline, there is the optional “Indigenous Self-Identification” link.

“There has been a high drop out rate of Indigenous students due to racism in the classroom and in the institution,” said Catherine Richardson, director of the First Peoples Studies program. “We are all working together towards greater retention, and that is done through support.”

Richardson explained that if she, who is Métis, was a student at the time of this new Self-Identification process, the support she would have gotten through it would probably encourage her to stay in school if she fell behind or had troubles.

Richardson said the staff could be present and be able to advocate for her if she had an issue with a professor for example. Or, “if there was a funeral in my community that I needed to attend, they would help me make arrangements with the professor.”

“For a long time, Indigenous students and those ‘taking care of the students’ did not want them to have to self-identify because there was too much risk of stigmatization and racism,” continued Richardson. “The ASRC offers a safe space, cultural safety and opportunities to form friendships and connections away from home, with a higher sense of mutual understanding.”

Concordia Spokesperson Vannina Maestracci said in an email to The Concordian that this new tool is used to connect students to culturally relevant resources and support on campus. According to Maestracci, the inputted information will be kept confidential and will only be available to select staff at the Aboriginal Student Resource Centre (ASRC) and the Office of the Registrar.

“There are more reasons to identify other than to merely be used as a diversity statistic by the institution,” said Richardson. “There are more scholarships available for Indigenous students, particularly at the masters and doctoral level.”

On top of scholarships, the identification tool could also give students the opportunity to have access to specialized services, bursaries and trips to conferences.

Richardson said the ASRC holds an Indigenous graduation celebration as well. Students don’t need to be formally identified to the university in order to participate, but it is through this identification process and the ASRC that the staff reaches out to students.

Richardson said knowing the number of Indigenous students is important for groups such as the Indigenous directions leadership group. Once given this information, the group could properly and more strongly advocate for the students when made aware of their background and general number, and they would, therefore, be better able to attend to their potential needs. She added that this identification also gives Indigenous students access to jobs related to Indigenous research projects, such as First Voices Week.

 

Graphic by Victoria Blair

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It Takes All of Us: Eradicating On-Campus Sexual Violence

Following the requirements enforced by 2017’s bill 151 on preventing and fighting sexual violence in higher education institutions, Concordia University partnered with the Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) and Knowledge One to develop online training for all faculty members, including students and staff. As a result, It takes all of us offers guidelines, scenarios and definitions of what sexual violence means.

The mandatory training, which can be found through MyConcordia’s webpage, tackles myths and facts of either assault or harassment while defining what consent is. For Jennifer Drummond, coordinator for the SARC, it’s especially crucial during the first weeks of a new semester to provide everyone with the right information, which research has shown to be the time of year most prone to sexual violence.

“It’s a huge issue and a hard one,” Drummond said. “It really takes everyone to participate in training and increasing their knowledge around this issue to participate in preventing sexual violence.”

According to the Canadian Federation of Students, many on-campus sexual assaults occur during the first eight weeks of classes. It suggests a number of factors, some of which are moving away from home for the first time, being in a new city, or not having a lot of friends to rely on yet.

And then there’s Frosh. It’s known to anyone who has ever attended a college or university – or even just watched any American college movie – these Frosh weeks lead to parties and events inevitably full of risky situations. Drummond says drugs and alcohol are definitely a factor in sexual violence, not in terms of ever blaming someone for being a victim of sexual violence, but more about people perpetuating sexual violence as a result of using drugs and alcohol. But is understanding the difference and changing such mentalities feasible via online training?

“There is always more education and more awareness that needs to be done,” Drummond said. “This is a huge topic and it affects a lot of people. I think it’s important to remember that changing culture is a long-term project. This is one part of that and it’s going to get everyone on our campus to have a shared language around this.”

Online training is an interesting format when you try to reach as many people as possible, while in-person training for a campus community of over 50 thousand people is not realistic, Drummond said. The university consulted with faculty, students and staff – including survivors of sexual violence – to gather suggestions and feedback throughout the process. Various visuals and audio projects along with statistics can be paused or skipped by hitting the button I feel overwhelmed – this button was designed for people who might experience flashbacks from past assault.

Obviously, it’s more than useful to have all the information gathered in one place. Such training, especially given that it’s mandatory, will help to get everyone on the same level of knowledge and awareness. Drummond also hopes it will allow people to engage in more complicated conversations around subjects that are hard to tackle.

Yet, while the training provides many scenarios illustrating sexual violence between students on and off-campus, It takes all of us missed the chance to include student-teacher scenarios. For the past few years, Concordia has received a great number of sexual assault and harassment complaints towards its staff members. It would have been empowering for a university to acknowledge that these situations exist, and even greater to include them in their mandatory sexual violence training. Unfortunately, this dimension of on-campus sexual violence is hardly addressed; in fact, it’s only brought up at the very end of the 45-minute video, through links to external documents.

According to the SARC, there is a second version of the training intended for faculty staff. It focuses further on power dynamics and guidelines for student-faculty interactions, whether romantic or sexual. On Jan. 26, 2018, the university issued new guidelines addressing the unequal, institutional power dynamics within instructor-student relationships. These guidelines, along with the mandatory training, is part of the provincial government’s effort to fight sexual violence across universities and colleges.

All faculty members have until Oct. 4 to complete the training for the fall semester and a series of warning emails will be sent as the date approaches. But Concordia’s seriousness in dealing with sexual violence truly reveals itself through the ultimate sanction of denying access to winter class registration to any student who hasn’t completed the training.

“People are feeling great that their university is taking steps on this issue and really being ambitious in terms of the deadline for people to complete it,” said Drummond. ”It is everyone’s responsibility to engage and help prevent [sexual violence] from happening.”

The tone is set.

 

Graphic by Victoria Blair

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MyConcordia glitches on first day back

MyConcordia's homepage

Returning to school after winter break was harder than usual this Tuesday, as technical issues with the servers prohibited many students and faculty members from logging onto their MyConcordia portals.

The website, which serves the over 45,000 students enrolled at Concordia in addition to hundreds of staff and faculty members, was unable to handle the influx of people trying to log in on Jan. 3, the first day of the winter semester.

“The system was up but not everybody could get in,” said university spokesperson Chris Mota, citing “higher than expected” volume as the reason why the website wasn’t functioning properly.

“Well it’s very inconvenient,” said John Emil Vincent, a professor in the English department. Vincent could not access Moodle to post the course syllabus or email his students until a few hours before class on Jan. 4.

Mike, a responder for the university’s Instructional and Information Technology Services Helpline, explained that while IITS became aware of the issue on Tuesday morning, “it wasn’t really clear what the problem was.”

“They were attempting to fix it,” he said, referring to the IITS technicians whose job is to maintain Concordia’s servers. “It just took a little longer than expected.”

Priya Patel, an English Literature major, said that she was unable to log into her account until 9 p.m.

“I couldn’t log on in the afternoon,” said Patel. “And once I logged onto the portal, registration was still down because of overflow. Really frustrating.”

IITS left a notice on the front page of MyConcordia.ca warning users of “intermittent interruptions” to the portal and offering students an alternative link to access their class schedules.

Server capacity has since been increased to address the problem.

(Story updated at 10 p.m. 05/01/12)

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