Rural students without Wi-Fi: We’re doing school work in Chick-fil-A parking lot

College students struggling with internet access say Georgia needs a pass/fail option
Rural students have to find Wi-Fi where they can, and sometimes it’s the Chick-fil-A parking lot.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Rural students have to find Wi-Fi where they can, and sometimes it’s the Chick-fil-A parking lot.

Three University of Georgia students, Bryson Henriott, a freshman from the Vidalia area studying political science,  Peyton Lee, a junior from Zebulon studying agribusiness, and Briana Hayes, a junior from Baxley studying health promotion, urge the University System of Georgia to embrace a pass/fail option.

They say the lack of connectivity in the rural communities hampers their efforts and those of other rural students to keep up with online classes. The 2019 Miss University of Georgia, Hayes is president of RISE, Rural Students Igniting Success ­­­­and Education.

AJC reporter Arlinda Broady wrote this week about how students are stymied by the lack of reliable internet in rural areas.

I am always delighted to share the views of rural students as their voices are often missing from higher education discussions in Georgia.

By Bryson Henriott, Peyton Lee and Briana Hayes

Here in Georgia, we believe in second chances. That is why students across the state are rallying to give the University System of Georgia another shot at getting the optional pass/fail policy right.

Right now, we are struggling to accommodate the transition to online education. For one, home Wi-Fi rarely works. UGA has recognized that connectivity and access pose a huge issue for many students, so it has offered to distribute Wi-Fi hotspots. But in some places, cell service is so poor that sometimes texts won’t go through.

One of us has had to drive to the local Chick-fil-A and sit in the local parking lot to connect to free Wi-Fi – often unreliable and unstable––to complete assignments. This story is far from rare.

Briana Hayes

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Other students living in different time zones have had to wake up at 3 a.m. to attend lectures or take tests, an unacceptable reality. Many professors have been understanding, but not all, and not evenly across courses.

When many of us left home to attend college, we found a sanctuary from dysfunctional homes, poverty, and inequity. We have friends who returned from college to two-bedroom homes with six or even seven people, all with internet access needs, none with an income at the moment.

Peyton Lee

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Another friend suffers from anxiety and is now tasked with caring for a family member on top of completing her education. UGA has encouraged us to reach out to Student Care and Outreach, which is doing the best it can to address these unprecedented challenges.

But patchwork solutions, however well implemented, can’t solve the real problem. Our grading system assumes that we all have similar access to resources to complete our education. Now, that just isn’t true.

That is why we, along with thousands of our peers, are calling for an opt-in pass/fail system that will allow the students most affected by the coronavirus outbreak to make a decision that we never wanted to make –– but one that will allow us to accommodate the unique challenges this era has brought upon us.

Bryson Henriott

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We recognize that many may be concerned with how an opt-in pass/fail system could impact their education.

Will it affect my chances at being accepted to graduate school?

Will it alter my scholarship eligibility?

Others, including administrators, have asked: How will an opt-in pass/fail system affect academic rigor?

We share these concerns, which is why we want to address some of these points and set the record straight.

First, USG remains an outlier by not creating an opt-in pass/fail system. Peer institutions such as the University of Florida, Vanderbilt University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Auburn University have already implemented similar changes to their grading systems.

Furthermore, Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yal,e have done so, too. If academic rigor is the main concern for the USG –– if, as they put it, “in times of adversity, we should reach higher, not lower”–– let us aspire to be as rigorous as Harvard and Yale, and as diligent as Florida and Michigan. Let us not confuse stubbornness with strength. Instead, let’s trust in students to make the choice that is best for us.

For those concerned about their graduate school applications, they can make the decision for themselves as to whether they should take a course pass/fail. Surely, graduate schools and employers would be able to ask applicants who chose pass/fail about those decisions, allowing students to take full control of their educational and professional futures by explaining themselves down the road, when the time is right.

Several graduate schools have already adopted some form of a pass/fail policy, and will be able to assess students’ transcripts regardless of a letter grade or a pass/fail.

Furthermore, for those who rely on scholarships like HOPE, Zell, or another merit-based program, we believe an opt-in pass/fail system could be designed to work within these programs.

We are resilient and we are strong. But we implore you, the Regents, the entire USG system, do your duty. Listen to those with the expertise and knowledge about how this virus is affecting students. Take us seriously.

If we had the choice, we would have wished to continue our education undisturbed. We don’t get that second chance. But you do on this pass/fail decision, and we hope you will make the right call this time.