Like the majority of my colleagues, I became a college professor because I wanted my work and value systems to be aligned. I want my classroom to be a venue where my students can hear from each other and, at the same time, advance their understanding of the complex issues facing our society. This is why my courses deconstruct race, discuss racism, explore issues of oppressive government regimes, and examine the power that grassroots movements have to enact positive change.
And that is also why I’m throwing out all of this week’s course material.
Right now, my students don’t need my class to learn about the world because the world’s problems have landed squarely on their doorstep, have become heavier weights on their shoulders, and have been amplified on their screens. Their minds are fully occupied with a pandemic, police brutality, and a government crackdown. Like others, I think that my course material is important. I still make it available to my students, but nothing from this week will be required for students who cannot find the time to complete it. And, I plan to extend this homework suspension if necessary.
Before I wrote this, many of my students were sending me photos of themselves peacefully protesting for racial justice, while another explained that two businesses on her block burned to the ground overnight. Some of my other students are currently at home recovering from COVID-19 while trying to navigate unemployment with rent hanging over their heads. Still, others are working overtime shifts to keep the grocery stores stocked or even boarding up the windows of their place of employment. There is no room right now for homework.
I implore you to let your students off the hook this week (and beyond, if necessary). When we ask our students to focus on homework right now, we are essentially silencing their voices. Tying them up at home — behind a computer — takes away their power to work for justice, to organize, as well as their ability to practice self-care. If you are an educator like me, you likely took on the role because you firmly believe that education is an empowering mechanism. Please make sure you stay on the side of student empowerment and don’t practice student pacification by making your students choose between a good grade and a better world.