SGA hold Administrator’s Forum: Concerns raised about academic policies and gender identity training

FSU administrators responded to students’ concerns regarding academic policies, Thanksgiving and spring breaks, the need for gender identity training, parking, and COVID-19 during the Administrators Forum hosted by SGA Oct. 20.

A number of attendees on the Zoom webinar joined anonymously.

Academic Policies

Lexi Kays, secretary of SGA, brought up an issue about professors’ communication with students. 

“I just think that if professors expect us to have these due dates, all of our assignments done by these due dates and have good communication, I think it’s fair to assume that they’ll have that same respect back for us students,” she said. 

Interim Provost and Vice President Ellen Zimmerman responded by saying, “The college deans and I are actually aware of this issue and have met to talk about it.”

“Students clearly need other ways and multiple ways that they can converse with their faculties. And I’m really sorry to hear people have been struggling with that in certain cases,” she added.

In addition to a lack of communication, SGA Senator Danielle Shaw was concerned about how the Pass/Fail Policy will work this semester.

Zimmerman explained that the current Pass/Fail Policy allows students to declare pass/fail until the withdrawal date, rather than the add/drop date. 


Senator Eryca Carrier said several students had spoken to her and shared that their professors have “intentionally made this semester harder.

“For example, making more assignments, refusing to record lectures for people who are unable to attend classes due to the semester being mostly remote. What can be done to address this issue?” she asked. 

Zimmerman said, “I don’t know whether they’re making assignments harder or not. … It’s a hard thing to evaluate or prove. We have talked with the department chairs about that, trying to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

 She added, “We can’t require anyone to record their class, but we have strongly recommended and most faculty are doing it. Most faculty are recording their classes.”

An anonymous attendee was concerned about course registration. They said the University has yet to provide a plan for the spring semester.

The student asked, “How am I supposed to plan what courses to take without knowing what the spring semester is going to look like? For example, knowing if I should register for in-person classes without knowing if I’ll be on campus?”

Zimmerman explained classes will have descriptions of whether they are in person, hybrid, remote, synchronous or asynchronous, and “all of those descriptions will appear next to the course number and title.”

Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students, student life & director residence life and housing, said, “If you’re on campus now, you should know if you feel comfortable that you will continue to be on campus in spring if you want to be.”

“We also anticipate having spaces to increase the residence community. For the spring semester, we’ve started a waitlist already,” he added.

Cara McCarthy asked, “Has there been a decision made or is there going to be an ongoing conversation about residents being allowed to leave their housing contract with no financial penalty in the event that they do not wish to live on campus in the spring?”

Cochran replied, “We have been dealing with requests from people who have had a whole range of issues. … We will continue to work with people on that.” 

Thanksgiving and Spring Break

Hillary Nna asked, “What is going to happen with repopulation after Thanksgiving break?”

President F. Javier Cevallos said, “Our plan is to continue as we have been doing with testing and testing protocols that we have. Of course, we know that there is a little bit of a spike going on and we have to be very careful.”

Ilene Hofrenning, director of health services, said, “We are a little concerned about Thanksgiving break – letting students go home for at least a four-day weekend seeing family and friends, probably doing more socializing.”

“We’re thinking about testing everybody – having onboarding testing after Thanksgiving,” she added. “In the next couple months coming into flu season, we’re worried about twin damage with both the flu and COVID-19.

The University is currently offering free flu shots for students, faculty, and staff from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday Oct. 27. 

Student Trustee McKenzie Ward brought up student concerns about the cancellation of spring break. 

Zimmerman said the rationale for canceling spring break was to give the University time to test students when they come back from winter break.

“We need to test all of the returning students before they come on campus, which means we have to either interrupt the original break and take the last several days of that break to do that and bring people back on campus, or we take that extra week and use that time to do the test,” she explained. 

“Canceling spring break was really done as a safety measure,” she added. “Spring break was traditionally a time for people to travel and often the locations where they ended up would be crowded. There wouldn’t be very much ability to socially distance.” 

SGA President Olivia Beverlie said, “I think the decision wasn’t made out of any malicious intent to take spring break away from students. It was made more from my point of view as an effort to make sure that students on campus don’t get displaced after coming back from spring break.”

“I know it was a tough decision,” she added. “But there were other student leaders involved in the process who also shared the same view. But we were thinking mostly from the standpoint of putting students’ health on campus first.”

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, explained, “There are particular requirements for how many days, according to the state, that we are actually in session for school. We also have to follow contract guidelines about when the beginning and the end of the semester happens.”

COVID-19

An anonymous attendee asked, “I’ve heard some residents in my building questioning the legitimacy of COVID test results as the number of cases have been very minimal. How do we know if the tests are accurate and everyone is COVID free?”

Hofrenning answered, “The test that we use is the  PCR [Polymerase Chain Reaction] molecular test, which is the gold standard of testing for COVID-19.”

“I think the tests are as accurate as they can be. With any testing, there’s always the possibility of some false negatives and false positives,” she added. “But I think that it’s really minimized with the kind of test the lab that we’ve sent it to. I agree that it’s surprising that we’ve had as few positives as we have.”

Another anonymous attendee asked, “If all my classes are remote and I’m living at home, am I allowed to come on campus to receive a flu shot or the COVID test?”

Hofrenning replied, “Yes, you are. If your classes are remote, you don’t necessarily have to come to get the COVID test, but if you want to you can.”

Another anonymous attendee asked, “Is there a possibility that residence halls will be completely shut down besides emergency housing?”

Cochran responded, “We have a campus COVID-19 analytics team that is continually monitoring metrics, and making recommendations on steps the University can do to try to address and be proactive and stay ahead of things so that we can keep the residence halls open – keep the semester going.”

Holloway said, “I do want to assure students that we will still remain open for emergency housing – students who are housing insecure, food insecure, etc.”

Gender Identity Training

Carrier said, “I’ve experienced firsthand and have students talk to me about how staff and faculty on this campus have poorly handled conversations around gender and sex. 

“This is something I’ve heard of each of my four years at FSU. The topic of gender will come up in a class and a professor will say that they aren’t getting involved or try to remain neutral while students debate over if there are two genders or two sexes. 

“The reality is that allowing people to have opinions that there are only two biological sexes or two genders is anti-science and it condones and promotes violence against transgender and non-binary students. How will staff and faculty be educated on how to handle situations like this in the future?” she asked.

Constanza Cabello, vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement said, “We’ve definitely offered training on gender identity and expression in the past, and so that’s certainly something we can continue to offer.”


She added, “The Bias Education Response Team is a tool.”

Cabello asked students to use the tool to report what’s happening in classrooms and residence halls that may be “promoting bias on campus.”

Carrier then asked, “Offering these trainings is not enough when the rhetoric that is being condoned by negligence is pro-violence. What will it take for these trainings to be mandatory for faculty?”

Zimmerman said, “Mandatory trainings are difficult to implement. What we can do is create trainings that occur at times where people have very few other obligations – where there are incentives for attending them.”

Vice President of SGA Abigail Salvucci said, “I just want to reiterate the importance of student safety regarding their identity on this campus when it comes to gender pronouns and sexual identity. These are not things that are light-hearted. 

“These are things that can actually affect a student’s life and can affect the safety of their life if it’s not taken seriously. I just think trainings like this are necessary and important to the safety of these students,” she added.

“These are students’ lives on the line.” Salvucci said.

Parking

FSUPD Chief Brad Medeiros said a number of residents have noticed the Maynard and Salem End Parking Lots are nearly empty. 

He said students are concerned about safety walking from Maple and have asked, “Would it be possible to reassess the ability for resident students to park closer to campus?”

Medeiros said, “We will be opening up Maynard, and Salem End Lots and making them available to residents students.”

He added the RamTram will only continue to service Maple Lot. 

Since this Administrators’ Forum meeting, students have received an email stating, “Resident students for the Fall 2020 Semester will now be allowed to park in Maynard Lot and Salem End Lot during the week as well as on weekends in addition to the Maple Parking Lot.”

[Editor’s Note: Daniel Fuentes is a Resident Assistant and staff writer at The Gatepost. Cara McCarthy is an Associate Editor at The Gatepost. McKenzie Ward is the Student Trustee and Opinions Editor at The Gatepost.]