We must do better: An open letter about COVID-19


Eric-John Szczepaniak, Student Senate President

Students are frustrated with the lack of communication regarding COVID-19. Students have not received a list of resources to support them, such as the U-Haul free 30 days of storage and changes to Charter and Comcast services that provide 60 days of free wifi to homes with college and K-12 students. 

For weeks now, GVSU has been preparing for the spread of COVID-19 to Michigan and coordinating with our peers across the state. None of these meetings included students. Now, I know, emergency situations require swift action and sometimes time is a luxury that we do not have. GVSU had the time. Missing the student voice means leaving important questions unanswered. 

See gvsu.edu/coronavirus and gvsu.edu/provost for many answers to questions that students have raised. If you have other questions, please email these to [email protected]

The response that GVSU put together does not adequately consider the needs of the most at-risk Lakers and it is important that they know this. 

As GVSU has rolled out its response to COVID-19, you have probably had questions. So have I. At first, I didn’t know what the University could do differently. It looked like our response was pretty similar to that of our Michigan peers. However, as more colleges and universities across the country have implemented their ‘pandemic plans’ with scrupulous media coverage, I have realized that GVSU and our peers can do better. 

You should take a read of this great example: Berea College Praised for Coronavirus Response

On Friday, I asked GVSU to delay the final installment of the payment plan from March 20th until the end of the year. Many students will be working new jobs if they moved home, taking care of parents and siblings, dealing with illnesses themselves, and struggling to pay bills. 

Hear me out: what if we actually still paid student workers, even the ones we sent home? 

This will not solve all the problems, like the on-campus student working at Family Fare that had to quit her job to move back to Detroit. It does, though, provide more Lakers with financial stability and should be an option that is on the table for this emergency and future ones. 

To their credit, GVSU did announce that it will reimburse students a portion of their housing and dining costs. This is better than some of our peers. However, GVSU will not pay student workers 

for hours not worked, those that have been displaced away from our campus. At Berea College, they are continuing to pay students workers. Governor Whitmer, when announcing the three week hiatus for all Michigan pK-12 schools, requested that schools pay employees as they regularly would. That is what GVSU should do with its student workers. Without this, students face additional hardships which makes their new online learning even more difficult. 

On Thursday, Student Senators worked with faculty leaders to write recommendations for the academic side of the University response. I’m not sure why this was not accomplished earlier. 

GVSU will extend the drop deadline (with a ‘W’, no money back) to April 6th. GVSU will not require that students be available at the regularly scheduled time for class periods that will now be given online. GVSU will also allow units and professors to consider, on a course-by-course basis, awarding credit/no credit in place of a letter grade. 

GVSU is not the top priority for any Laker at this juncture, nor should it be. 

As Berea College realized, asking professors to quickly wrap up their course assignments should be the standard across the country. Previously assigned work and culminating projects should be the standard and all that is still expected of students. This solution is not ideal but it is more equitable than the status quo, taking into account the students without a computer and wifi access and those that face additional financial pressures. 

Some professors, with a lack of direction from GVSU, have gone the opposite direction and asked more of their students: more logging onto BlackBoard, more busy work, more assignments to ‘make up’ for missed in-person instruction. 

GVSU has not prepared an answer for those students without a computer and wifi access. 

Many libraries across the state and other public places are closing to limit the spread. GVSU needs to consider the needs of these students not just now, but in every situation. Let’s tackle the digital divide that exists in our community. 

Think about the most at-risk student you can picture. Think about their daily struggles. Now triple them.

Can you contact this student today, GVSU? Can you reach the student now taking care of their younger sibling while trying to find work because their single mother cannot afford to feed another mouth? If you can’t do it easily, then realize that their professor can’t communicate with them easily either. 

To the extent that you still can: pay students, connect students, hear us .

Eric-John Szczepaniak

President, Student Senate