Fearing Financial Distress, Students Successfully Petition for Online Course in Springcsudhbulletin October 27, 2021 2 Comments
In an Oct. 13 email to the campus community President Thomas A. Parham reinstated the campus goal to have a minimum of 80% face-to-face on-campus instruction for the spring semester, as that number closely approximates the typical in-person engagement before the pandemic.
By Brenda Fernanda Verano, Editor in Chief
Led by seven student organizers , a group of students in the Chicano Studies department (CHS) at California State University, Dominguez Hills celebrated a big win last week. They pushed for having one of their upper-division courses for the upcoming spring 2022 semester online, instead of in-person, as it was originally planned.
The three-unit course, senior seminar (CHS 490), is “the capstone course for the major,” according to the campus catalog, meaning it is one of the final requirements for CSUDH seniors to graduate.
Initially, the course was part of the 80% of classes the university expects to resume on campus next semester. But according to the cohort, returning to campus could cause them to lose their jobs and the housing security they had gained during this time of distance learning.“We were all in the same boat and if we went back to campus, that boat would sink,” said Juan, a member of the group who asked his last name not be used for this article. “[Many of us] would lose our jobs, homes and or be homeless after spring semester.”
The organizing from these students, most of whom are seniors, consisted of emails to administration, meetings with majors and minors from the CHS department, collecting and presenting personal testimony, and even holding meetings with the dean of Arts and Humanities. Efforts that Monday, Oct. 18, brought, was good news. They were notified that they could enroll in the now-online course as the committee requested.
According to the cohort, the organizing began once they realized the return to campus was a concern for many other students beyonds the initial 7-member cohort. During the last few weeks the CHS senior cohort and committee shared concerns and social realities with each other, which led the committee to hold conversations with fellow classmates. In addition, they created a survey to collect data on what other students were struggling with and the ways returning to campus would affect them.
According to another cohort member, who goes by kata, they began asking classmates in their classes how they felt about having to go back next semester. Through group chats kata, who is taking classes in three different departments, noticed a pattern; working class students “doing everything we can to survive hardships imposed on us because of COVID-19 economically” they said.
“I started talking to everyone in my senior cohort and noticed we’re collectively tired of being “resilient” to institutional issues our department and administration can fix. The question then became what are we going to do to address these issues? Is this happening across different departments—why are students afraid to ask for accommodations to a school that supposedly values social-justice and equitable practices?,” kata added.
One of the last things the committee did to obtain this demand to make the senior seminar class an on-line course, was to request a meeting with the CHS Department Chair, Dr. Corina Benavides López, and the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, Dr. Tim Caron.
According to the committee, their concerns had been dismissed in the past, but they hoped this meeting would get them answers. The meeting held on Oct.15 was led by the cohort committee and attended by CHS alumni, current CHS major/minors, department faculty and professor. The meeting was filled with testimonies of CHS student and a list of demands presented by the committee, which included the demand of making CHS 490 an online course and a demand for the university to host a student-driven Town Hall about the return to campus next semester, a decision, that according to the cohort did not take into account many students social and economic abilities and accessibilities.
“We need transparency, we need to be part of the decision making process.his was not a collaborative community based decision. It was one made behind closed doors. The decision to return to a campus was made without the input of students nor staff,” said kata at the Oct. 15 meeting.
Regarding the request to CHS 490 an online course, Dr. Tim Caron, said this was a decision he could not approve himself but would be willing to work with the students, the department and administration to obtain this demand. Something that many thought would’ve taken longer, but was made possible the weekend following the meeting, when students were notified via email by Benavides López, that the class had changed from in-person to an online course and was ready to be taken next semester.
The demand was met after Dr. Gretel Vera Rosas, associate professor of the Department of Sociology and instructor of the CHS 490 course, agreed to teach the class as an online synchronous course. “This online course format for CHS 490 is a one-time piloting that has been approved for Spring 2022 and does not serve as an agreement or model for future offering of CHS 490,” the email read.
In terms of the campus-wide Town Hall the cohort requested to touch on the issue of returning to 80% campus capacity in January, Dr. Caron agreed this was necessary and said he would bring this concern to campus leadership. “I’m really eager to work with you all and with the department, and with senior administration to address these really serious needs that the students have brought today,” Caron said in the Oct. 15 meeting. He also mentioned he would be in conversation with the provost and bring the request to the weekly meeting scheduled for all the academic colleges’ deans. “I’ll bring that up there because I think that’s the appropriate place to begin the conversation with senior leadership across the entire campus when it comes to academic affairs,” he said.
Although the CHS seniors and minors are now able to enroll in their senior seminar course which will be taught completely online, alleviating the majority of the senior cohort needing to return to campus, the Town Hall has not been scheduled but they hope it happens soon. “This win isn’t only about the senior cohort but the beginning to advocating for other students that have had or have the same issues and felt they didn’t have a voice” said Yajahira, a cohort member. ”Our major is based on advocating for marginalized groups and we’re only adhering and practicing what we’re being taught.”