Frustrated and confused, Oxford College sophomores have pushed back against the University leaving them without a final semester on campus.
Students demand the University reprioritize the 75 additional on-campus spots and provide increased remote support for the spring semester. The spring plan, which prioritizes first-years to live on campus, was made to maintain “continuity with this fall semester,” according to the Oxford website.
In an Oct. 30 email to the Wheel, Oxford Dean Douglas Hicks wrote, “We currently expect that, based on academic and other requests to live on campus, that the majority of additional students living on campus in the spring will be sophomores.”
While student organizers wrote letters and protested on social media, they did not coordinate with the Oxford Student Government Association (SGA). Oxford SGA separately advocated for reallocating the 75 on-campus spots to sophomores, but students have been largely unaware of the University’s plans to reprioritize sophomores.
Oxford SGA President Eleanor Liu (21Ox) wrote in a Nov. 1 email to the Wheel that she “was not aware” of administrators’ expected reallocation, noting Oxford SGA passed an Oct. 21 resolution to reorder prioritization for the 75 additional on-campus spots before Hicks’ statement.
“Our goal of more spots for second years could be achieved organically through the housing application and decision process without explicit reallocation,” Liu wrote.
SGA’s resolution requested that additional on-campus spots for the spring semester go to international students and others with extenuating circumstances determined by the College, then remote sophomores followed by freshmen.
The resolution lists reasons for the reprioritization, including first-years’ initial opportunity to secure a spot on campus in the fall, tensions resulting from first-years significantly outnumbering sophomores on campus and upholding traditions facilitated by sophomores on campus.
Liu said the University did not consult SGA on its spring decision.
Student organizer Mykiah Carrington-Zurita (21Ox) has separately led protests. Directly after the Oct. 16 town hall, sophomores started organizing in an informal Zoom call. Carrington-Zurita created a Google document for those interested to pen a letter to administrators.
“As the meeting progressed, you could see the almost despair, this disappointment with a lot of the students,” Carrington-Zurita said. “[Administrators] told us [the decision], but they never gave us an explanation.”
The night of Oct. 16, Carrington-Zurita emailed the letter to 14 members of the Dean’s Council, including Hicks, and encouraged other students to follow suit.
The email outlined five grievances: lack of on-campus resources for student mental health and pass-fail grading, dismissal of alternatives like hotels to allow sophomores on campus, exorbitant tuition and textbook costs, and lack of administrative transparency.
Carrington-Zurita and Jazmine Charnin (21Ox), another student organizer, have since launched an Instagram account called Oxford Unite, with 62 followers, including Oxford SGA.
“This is not so much about reversing the fact that sophomores can’t go back on campus, but I think it’s more about addressing what’s in the future,” Liu wrote, noting that SGA did not endorse Oxford Unite.
During the Oct. 16 town hall, Carrington-Zurita said administrators did not fully address student concerns, and called the Zoom setting that disallowed unmuting and answered pre-selected questions,“censorship.”
Carrington-Zurita and Charnin said they understood COVID-19 has presented new challenges for administrators, but they were disappointed by the lack of thorough explanations.
“It’s apparent that they brought back freshmen because we can’t transfer to another school. That felt like, ‘Oh, money is guiding your decision,’ to us. And we only got one semester. That’s like we never went to Oxford.”
Vaishnavi Reddy (21Ox) called administrator responses “almost like gaslighting,” referencing dismissal of a tuition reduction, pass-fail changes, reconsideration of hotel housing and on-campus spot reallocation.
“There’s a reason we’re at Oxford,” Reddy said. “I don’t think the Atlanta sophomores are the same because they still get to experience the same things later.”
In an Oct. 22 email to the student body, Hicks announced spring “rest days” planned for Feb. 17, March 16 and April 14 that are “designed to be free of scheduled classes and academic assignments.”
When asked about current demands, Charnin listed grade forgiveness and an academic break, saying, “I want to hear an actual plan, not that ‘you’re getting the same education.’”
Liu said SGA is interested in pushing the University to implement a pass-fail policy. In an Oct. 28 email to the Wheel, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Valerie Molyneaux wrote that College has considered implementing a pass-fail grading option for students on a permanent basis prior to the pandemic but “it’s not likely to make it through the process before spring term.”
Molyneaux reiterated that the temporary pass-fail option was an “emergency measure” last semester. “Oxford leadership has welcomed student input,” she said, referencing increased financial aid and remote course support programs.
In a Nov. 2 email, Liu asked Molyneaux to meet with the APPC to discuss the potential to pass the policy in the spring as a “trial run” for a more permanent basis and to alleviate student stress.