As a sophomore, I feel as though I’ve been conditioned to create autonomy for myself outside of the context of grades. That I am the master of my own academic destiny and what matters, really, are the personal connections that I create between my professors and myself. As long as I invest myself fully in the intellectual endeavors I pursue for myself, as long as I do the reading and complete the assignments, as long as I feel good about my understanding of the class, then don’t I fulfill my Sarah Lawrence requirement? Don’t we, at 1 Mead Way, exist in a strange world that stays just outside of everyone else’s collegiate requirements?
If we are, indeed, moving toward a more traditional way of perceiving and understanding grades—the administration now accepts SAT scores, qualifying us to be ranked nationally, excluding us from imagined lists like “The Top 10 Strangest Schools in America,” and “The 6 Best Colleges to Start a Chicken Farm In”—then the current student body should be adequately prepared. If we, in some capacity, have to un-learn our dismissal of letter grades and their implications, the school should equip us with some sort of explanation. Sarah Lawrence students are simply not ready to accept this new importance placed on traditional academic standards.
If grades are now so readily available, we should be re-taught how to go about getting a ‘good mark.’ I have no idea how to begin achieving an ‘A’ in my classes because, in most cases, there is no rubric, no grade book for the professor to add up. If I do need to start paying attention to how I can receive a traditionally acceptable grade, then someone needs to tell me how. In fact, every one of my professors needs to tell me how. Inevitably, because grades are so subjective, all faculty will have their individual standards.
My fear of this new system lies in all of the High School negativity that surrounds grades: they naturally invite comparison, which is, often, unhealthy. Rather than sneaking a peek at my neighbor’s test, I’ve much preferred feeling satisfied in dialogues I’ve entered with professors about my own work. The conference system allows for unique thought production that no “one and done” test ever could.
I don’t want to have to do a minimal amount of work just in order to pass a class. I’m sure my peers feel the same. Sarah Lawrence students are notorious for pushing the envelope, for asking questions that move far beyond the scale of “This paper is B work, but this could have given you that extra plus.” Perhaps this transition is a time for us all to ask difficult questions about our own academic place in the larger world. Perhaps this is a time for our student body to do what we do best: push the boundaries of tradition in order to get answers we can understand.
Image Credit: Hugh Thornhill