As the Oberlin College administration reminds us in every email it sends, these are “unprecedented times.” In such times, there is no perfect solution of how to go through with the 2020–21 academic year. We know that a normal return to campus in the fall is extremely unlikely, and rightfully so.
However, Oberlin’s plan for reopening neglects to meet the needs of many of its students.
As of right now, Oberlin’s plan for the coming academic year is to operate over three semesters that will take place in the fall, spring, and summer. First- and fourth-years will attend in the fall and spring, second-years in the fall and summer, and third-years in the spring and summer. While this plan does help to reduce class sizes and the number of students on campus, it fails to meet the needs of many students, especially third-years, Black, Indigeous and People of Color, and low-income students.
The third year is one of the most important years of college, and the summer before fourth year is crucial for studying and finding work or internships. Students on pre-law and pre-med tracks begin preparing for the LSATs and MCATs; some students take this time to study abroad; and other students settle into their majors and begin to figure out their post-Oberlin plans. Our summers are often reserved for working and finding internships and research opportunities that will help us make connections for the future. While President Carmen Twillie Ambar briefly discussed four- to six-week micro-internship opportunities for third-years in her June 10 email to students and parents, this program does not make up for the three months of experience we could get otherwise. After a summer taken away by COVID-19, next summer is necessary for third-years to participate in internships and create connections that will impact our futures.
Aside from the academic impact, Oberlin failed to see the disproportionate economic impact this plan has on its low-income students. Many students work during the summers in order to support their families and provide them with additional income. By making students attend college in the summer, apart from a few exceptions, Oberlin is actively taking away their students’ ability to help support their families and is letting down communities they have repeatedly promised to support.
This plan could also drastically affect the mental health of many students. Assuming that things will return to a somewhat normal schedule for the 2021–22 academic year, third-years will be expected to attend classes for spring, summer, fall, and spring with minimal breaks in between before graduating. An almost consecutive year and a half of classes can take a serious toll on students’ mental health. After suddenly being forced to move back home and having to deal with the stress of living through a pandemic, students are burdened with more fear and uncertainty by Oberlin’s plan.
Oberlin College, hold yourself accountable and fix a plan that disproportionately impacts and disadvantages specific members of our community.