Brown student protesters complain homework is interfering with their activism
Student activists at Brown University are complaining of emotional stress and poor grades after months of protesting, and blame the school for insisting that they complete their coursework.
“There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes, and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on,” an undergraduate student going by the pseudonym “David” told The Brown Daily Herald Thursday. “My grades dropped dramatically. My health completely changed. I lost weight. I’m on antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills right now. Counselors called me. I had deans calling me to make sure I was okay.”
Other students reported similar problems, describing maladies ranging from emotional distraction to panic attacks that they say caused them to skip assignments, miss class, and generally lose focus on keeping their grades up.
David and other students began demonstrating on campus in October to protest two opinion columns published in the Daily Herald that some students deemed racist because they defended the celebration of Columbus Day. Black and Asian student groups reacted by demanding that the paper not only retract and apologize for the op-eds, but also develop a plan for increasing the diversity of its staff, subject to approval by the activists.
Following an almost-immediate capitulation by the newspaper’s editorial board, and incensed by University President Christina Paxson’s attempt to stake out a middle ground on the matter, the protesters proceeded to direct their unspent energies on the university as a whole, issuing an ultimatum in November calling for affirmative action hiring policies, mandatory diversity training, and apologies for Brown’s historical ties to the slave trade.
Paxson released a draft of a new Diversity Action and Inclusion Plan 10 days later, only to find herself besieged in her own office by student protesters complaining that the plan was “illegitimate and insufficient” and demanding an end to “open dialogues and forums” on the matter.
David, who spent many hours helping to organize the demonstrations, claims he reached out to both Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and his academic deans for support, but told the Daily Herald that the therapy and deans’ notes requesting extended deadlines on his assignments were little more than “bandages” for the stress of balancing his activism with existing obligations to school, work, and friends.
Other students expressed similar frustration with the university’s expectation that they keep up with their schoolwork during the protests, saying that some professors refused to grant extensions on homework and tests.
Justice Gaines, an undergraduate student who uses the pronouns xe, xem and xyr, even recounted suffering from what xe describes as “a panic attack” related to xyr emotions over the Daily Herald op-eds, adding that xe “couldn’t go to class for several days” following the episode.
Liliana Sampedro, one of the students who compiled the diversity ultimatum, argued that refusal to grant such accommodations “has systemic effects on students of color,” who she said may sometimes feel obligated to prioritize their activist work over their studies.
“I remember emailing the professor and begging her to put things off another week … I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t slept. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally,” Sampedro recalled. The professor nonetheless insisted that she submit a previously-assigned research presentation on time, which she claims forced her to stay up late to finish the project after having already spent hours working on the list of demands.
Assistant Dean of Student Support Services Ashley Ferranti, however, told the Daily Herald that over 90 percent of such requests are routinely accepted, and that the university strives to maintain its academic standards without discouraging students from becoming politically involved.
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