Hands typing on a red typewriter

Photo credit:  Neel on Unsplash

This school year, some GSU Perimeter faculty have been participating in a CETLOE faculty bookclub, reading Cia Verschelden’s Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, racism, and Social Marginalization. In a recent discussion, someone suggested that we take the freewriting we’d done in that session and create a “different kind of dear student letter” for our students this​ semester– a letter that attempted to come to terms with what the pandemic school year has meant and what we can take from it. In other words, this was not to be a letter in the student-shaming genre, but a letter attempting to do some of the very things Verschelden suggests as bandwidth recovery tools: acknowledge the systemic and institutional inequality many of our students deal with, the suffering caused by the pandemic (and all the things)​ in 2020-2021, and to lift students up, encourage them to keep going, and to bring them into community.

Faculty participants share their letters below: the first is a vid and transcript of a professor’s last class video from 2020-21, and the second letter is from the beginning of Spring Semester 2021.

From Rebecca Weaver:
(transcript, minus class-specific due date reminders, below)

Dear students,

Well, here we are, at the end of the school year. While I’m doing a fair amount of my usual reflection about assignments and stuff this semester, I’m also left with other feelings and thoughts. I’m struggling a little to make sense of it. I’m thinking about how hard this semester has been for all of us. It’s been hard for me because we haven’t seen much of each other, we’ve been forced to do these cohort meetings that have worked in some ways, not in others. Like many of you, I do best in the classroom, when I have a community to interact with, to bounce ideas off of, to talk to in real time. I miss talking with big groups of you in class or individually in my office or around campus. I miss that so much, and I can’t wait for it to happen again (safely).

While I’ve really enjoyed seeing those of you who could make it to cohort meeting, and meeting with some of you over Webex, I understand that I haven’t seen many of you because of bandwidth, because of the things we’ve been talking about this semester–all of the things that drain our capacity for “college.” I know a number of you have been sick this semester if not with COVID, then something else, or family members and friends have been. Some have recovered, but there’s still healing to do, and some haven’t, recovered, which means there’s grieving to do. Or because someone in your family has been sick or hurt, you’ve had to work more, or cover home bases for others who have had to work more You’ve had to take care of people older and younger than you. You’ve had to travel in anxious circumstances. And you’ve been dealing with all of this on top of the ongoing issues with inequality and marginalization we’ve been dealing with for centuries. I think that one of the things that has impressed me most is that you’ve been dealing with all the things AND TAKING CLASSES. I’ve been humbled to work with you this semester.

I’ve been trying to think about what I would have done in your situation and what I might want to hear. I think it’s this: Well, this semester/year has sucked for all of us. We didn’t choose these times to try to do school in. I would have loved a reminder not to let this semester set my ideas about what school could be or about the relationships it’s possible to form here.

I wish I could say or do something that would make it all better right now, but —instead, I have only this: hope, in the way that this time in our history has made many more people aware of systemic and institutional issues that deepen inequality, and more people are committed to changing that, inside and outside of college.

You’ve all done something worthwhile and important this semester, even if your final grade may not reflect that. Signing up for college classes to begin with—you registered during a pandemic!—was in itself an act of bravery, which I commend you for. Those of you who’ve done the work to pass or even excel in this class—-with everything else going on in the world: you blow my mind!

But all is not lost if you don’t end up passing.. All is not lost, by which I mean: come back. If you fail a class this semester, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person or irredeemable, or that you shouldn’t be in college. It means that you were trying to go to college in the middle of a fricking pandemic! Failure at a college class in a pandemic semester means that you tried, and you should give yourself credit for that.

I like the way my colleague Kevin Gannon puts it: An F is not the end of the story, it’s an interruption–it’s a setback, not a conclusion.You shouldn’t leave if you fail one or 2 or 5 classes. Come back / stay with us. There are so many people here at school ready and willing to help you get what you need to do better the next time, to help you keep writing the story that you want to tell about your education. Ask for help, stay with us, grow and learn and move forward. You don’t have to to this alone. You’ve done something amazing by taking the risk to do this right now, and if you don’t get the grade you want this semester, remember that failure (however you define that), is a teacher, too, especially if you risk the best kind of failure, which is the kind where you stay connected, where you’re pushed to deepen and extend relationships to the people and offices than can help. Don’t let setbacks push you away. You deserve to persist and you deserve to remain part of this community.

I want you to know that I have appreciated being in community with you this semester. I’ve been grateful for the times you’ve shared something to our community spaces or in a note to me. Each and everyone of you that I’ve had the chance to meet and talked to have made this semester bearable, even in the bleakest times, the lowest valleys. It matters to me that you “came” to school.

Take care and stay in touch.

From Amie Seidman:

Dear Student:

Thank you for being a part of this class. I am looking forward to learning with you this semester. 

The world is a strange place these days, and maybe an online class was not what you wanted to sign up for; I get that. I know that it can be an adjustment and I want you to know that I am here to help you adjust and succeed. You are not alone in this class. I am here to help, and it is my hope that this class feels like a small sanctuary, a place where you can feel safe to express your ideas.  

You are in this class as a student, but I know that you are so much more than that (a parent, a sibling, a daughter or son, a caretaker, a teacher while your kids are learning at home, a therapist, an employee for one or more jobs, and the list goes on). I know that fulfilling each of these roles can be exhausting and taking care of yourself can sometimes feel like a challenge. On top of that, there is this class and college in general. College is hard work, and all the other work in our life can make college even more difficult. 

I want you to know that I am here to help you through the struggles. I can’t talk to your boss and reduce your hours, and I can’t make sure your kids are learning everything they are supposed to, but I can help you in this class by listening to your concerns, providing feedback to help you improve, and giving you space to share when you feel overwhelmed and helping you to come up with a plan to succeed. 

Ask questions when you have them and always seek out help when you need it. Maybe you’ve experienced rejection in the past when you sought help, but in this class, that won’t happen. If our class can help you at least a little in your life, then I hope that that can carry you through some of the harder times.  

I know you are in my class because you have a goal and a dream for the future. As your teacher, I want to help you get where you want to be going. 

Here’s to a great semester!