Sosa: Iowa State should offer pass/no pass like spring semester

Columnist Zoami Calles-Rios Sosa encourages Iowa State to promote a pass/no pass option for this semester.

Zoami Calles-Rios Sosa

Iowa State University should allow students to use pass/not pass options for classes related to their majors this fall semester. This would alleviate the many mental health issues students are struggling with brought on by the pandemic. Other schools have implemented grading options similar to pass/no pass for their students. Why can’t Iowa State University do the same?

What is Pass/Not Pass?

Iowa State already offers pass/not pass grading for classes considered to be elective and not part of any student’s major/minor curriculum. They are meant to encourage students to “broaden their education” by taking classes outside their studies area. These classes are not counted in the student’s GPA. If a student gets a D- or above, they simply get a P, and if it’s below, they get an NP, meaning they didn’t pass the class.

In the spring semester of 2020, a special exception was made where the P/NP option could be used for any class, even if it was a class that was part of your major.

The option to P/NP for all classes that semester was a huge mental relief. I actually ended up using it for one of my math classes where I’d scored my first C. It did not mean I worked any less at learning the material, but it did mean I wasn’t worried about my GPA dropping too low.

Students are now asking we do the same for this semester.

Constant stress and anxiety

I think we can all agree that this year has been very different than most. Our American way has been upset, trampled on and changed by many events that have occurred due to and during the pandemic. This year’s events include businesses closing to nationwide protests, from children being caged to the death of Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from ravaging wildfires to derechos.

We are always in a state of constant stress and anxiety. 

Online learning takes more work

Some professors have risen to the occasion with flexibility, grace and kindness. They make their homework, exams and lectures reasonable. Others, however, not so much.

I also know that most professors’ goal is not to make it more difficult for us to learn. Yet, it’s easy to miss the fact that a 50-minute in-person lecture doesn’t translate into a 50-minute online lecture. During an in-person lecture, a professor pauses to ask questions or engage with the students; thus, the class isn’t 50 minutes of straight information. 

Online lectures require that students take notes but learn the material on their own. This takes well over the time the video lecture lasts. A 10-minute problem can take me 45 minutes to work through on my own. 

I guess it’s kind of what professor Matt Rouse says, and I loosely paraphrase, “It’s easy to look at someone else do the work and think that you know what you are doing.” That’s what I feel like when watching lectures where the professors just flow seamlessly through the problem.

Sure, I can copy the problem and steps to the answer down but it takes a lot longer to learn it. I should say Matt is a friendly and kind professor; one can see he really cares about his students.

We are all in this together

There have been times where I just feel so defeated and cry. With everything that’s going on and trying to teach myself challenging subjects, the feelings of stress and anxiety can be overwhelming, and I know I’m not alone. 

Many of my classmates feel the same. There is actually a petition to have the university do one P/NP class for any class. Over 2,300 students have already signed the petition. If you visit sites where Iowa State students are congregating online (such as /r/iastate), you can see the number of students openly discussing about these issues. Is the administration going to listen to its students?

Students are not the only ones. Just during the last week of June, 40 percent of adults in the U.S. reported struggling with mental health issues. I bet that if that survey went out today, it’d be closer to 80 to 90 percent. Everyone has been affected by the pandemic. We are all in this together.

Let’s try P/NP again

Iowa State should allow students to use Pass/Not Pass for any class, but if that’s too much, then at least two courses within a student’s main curriculum. I also think the P/NP for major-related classes could require a C- or better grade if the university is concerned about us learning the material.

The world is already a harsh place to be, but it’s also full of kind and compassionate people. Iowa State can do the kind thing and allow space for students to relax mentally, knowing they can still graduate in time without worrying about their grades and GPAs. In all honesty, this semester already sucks. Shouldn’t we try to make it just a bit better if we can?