High school and college seniors faced disappointing ends to their respective academic levels in 2020. University and local high school seniors both saw reorganized graduations. The former’s ceremony was delayed to an unlikely May 2021 event, given we will not soon emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. That bleak projection most likely means schools and colleges across the nation will see similar closures for 2021’s graduating class. The fact that they had a few extra months adjusting to the pandemic prior to the start of their senior year should not undermine how difficult this past year has been.
The challenge of virtual learning that these students have faced is an intersectional issue. The forces of racial inequality and classism — to name only two forms of discrimination this pandemic has intensified — impact not only equal healthcare access but also access to computers and safe learning environments at home. Moreover, inequities like these portend gaps between students living in poorer neighborhoods and richer ones in the same school district, alongside those between students in separate districts. Though high school seniors aren’t the only ones facing these challenges, many of them will be entering college after the most difficult year of their academic careers that was made suddenly more difficult by the pandemic.
To put it simply, the future University Class of 2025 needs a break. While most applicants are still awaiting official decisions, the University must take steps now to help this incoming class thrive. As such, administration should make general education requirements optional for the Class of 2025. While I believe general requirements should be made optional in the college education system as a whole, this incoming class especially deserves the opportunity to either explore coursework on their own terms or jump right into whatever course of study they prefer. Fellow Opinion Columnist Max Bresticker outlined the tedious nature of many general education requirements, including their limitation on student freedom and inequities — things that this pandemic has only further exacerbated.
Every student should have full reign over what path of study they partake in. Of course, major and minor requirements — though not without exception — are necessary to future careers. However, general education requirements are often no more than an extension of the general requirements we took in high school. The Class of 2025 has already grappled enough with the challenges of high school and should be allotted the chance to spend their money — money that the pandemic has put a strain on for many students — how they want to. This includes taking a potentially lighter schedule during their very first semester, one that will allow them to adjust to college life in a global pandemic.
I recognize that the University intends for its general requirements to help students challenge their biases and incoming interests, while also exposing them to new fields. Yet I question why these practices aren’t already being implemented in every class. A part of the New College Curriculum, Engagements are a set of courses that aim to introduce aesthetic, ethical and empirical studies to first-year students, alongside a requirement that teaches them how to piece apart human differences. While these fields are important, they should already be imbued in all courses taught at the University. Literature classes should already grapple with the history of racism alongside the aesthetics of writing. Science courses should already explore the bigotry present throughout much of scientific study. These aren’t just one-off topics to explore first year — issues of ethics, empiricism and aestheticism constantly clash and should be taught as such.
First-year students should still be allowed to opt-in to general requirements if they feel these classes fit their needs. However, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking the time to explore their interests without University requisites. I recognize that some current students in higher years — and even those who have already graduated decades ago — will oppose this as an effort to make students lazy or unprepared. That thought process, though, just feeds into the toxic, omnipresent meritocracy here at the University, which has us believe we are worth only as much work as we put into our academics. Making general education requirements optional will not only ease up — even just slightly — on the hardships incoming first-years have dealt with during COVID-19, but it will also counter meritocratic nonsense by encouraging student autonomy.
I wish the incoming class — at every college and university — the best of luck. Remember that you are never defined by your academic achievements and failures but rather by the personal worth you yourself derive from what you do and learn. Regardless if the University takes this crucial step, I and many other upperclassmen will be here for you as you begin this new journey.
Bryce Wyles is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.