To the Editors:
I took Environmental Studies 101 during my freshman spring. I felt confident in my performance throughout the semester, not only because I had worked hard in the class, but also because I had taken AP Environmental Science in high school. When I saw my final grade, my heart sank; I had gotten a D. I felt so upset and hurt. Because of the shame I felt, I avoided speaking with anyone about the grade; I bottled up my feelings inside and kept it to myself. I convinced myself that I had not been a good student, that I deserved the D and told myself to soldier on. I didn’t even consider the possibility of approaching my professor or a dean to seek an explanation for the grade. When I reflect on this, I can only think that the bad grade landed like a blow to my already shaky self-confidence and I retreated into myself, cloaking my shame in a mask of indifference.
A year came and went. During my sophomore spring, I got a call from my mom. She had seen the grade on my Presto account and was concerned. I had been carrying the feelings of humiliation and hurt around with me for so long that upon hearing my mom’s worry, I broke down and sobbed over the phone. The first thing my mom suggested that I do was contact my class dean to ask about how I might go about seeking an explanation for the grade. After hearing me out, my class dean directed me to the dean of studies. I hemmed and hawed, putting off contacting him.
My sophomore year ended and, partially because of this experience, I decided to take a year off from college. The summer passed and as I was getting ready to go to Israel for three months, my mom continued to pester me about contacting the dean. Shortly before I left last September, fully 15 months after receiving the D, I spoke to the dean of students. I got the sense that little could be done to change the grade but was nevertheless advised to contact the professor. Shortly thereafter I sent an email to my professor inquiring about the grade. Within an hour, she responded: “I just checked in my records and you have an overall B+ in my personal grade sheet.” A lump rose in my throat and I felt simultaneously relieved and upset with myself for not pursuing an explanation sooner.
I still do not understand how my grade was recorded as a D. I received no apology for the error, neither from the professor nor from the administration. I also have no idea how often this kind of mistake occurs, though I tend to think it is not unique.
I acknowledge that I am partially at fault for not having approached the professor upon receiving the D. For the freshman that I was, with a fragile sense of self-esteem, I felt no indignation nor injustice upon receiving the grade that would have spurred me to demand an explanation, but only an overwhelming sense of shame and self-blame. I don’t think I am alone, especially among freshmen, in having that response. The administration would do well to recognize such human frailties in students and do more to both encourage students to approach their professors promptly if they don’t understand the grades they have received and ensure correct recording of grades so that no one has to suffer in silence like I did.
– Jennifer Feigin