DePaul students achieve final exam exemptions after circulating petition


A screenshot of the petition, which has amassed over 28,000 signatures.

After enduring stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, the death of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide protests, the thought of completing final exams became an unbearable burden for junior Troi Davis.

“The administration didn’t really accommodate the fact that we were going through a pandemic already,” she said. 

Unsatisfied with the university’s response to the aforementioned crises, she took matters into her own hands, creating a petition that requested that Black students be exempt from final exams.

“And also I feel as though the theme of diversity and inclusion at DePaul can sometimes be a facade,” Davis said. “And the fact that the administration didn’t say anything of substance about [the protests] and only offered counseling services that were going to be remote anyway to the students that were actually going through a lot of emotional trauma due to everything that was going on was really disheartening for me.”

Davis created the petition and worked with members of DePaul STRONG (Sisters Together Recognizing Our Never-Ending Growth) to circulate the petition across the student body.

“DePaul University operates on a quarter system,” the petition reads. “This means during this pandemic and nationwide attack on racism and police brutality following the murder of George Floyd, Black DePaul students are expected to process our trauma and complete final exams/assignments.”

The petition also criticized the lack of resources provided to students who were struggling emotionally.

“DePaul has only offered inaccessible counseling services. We say these services are inaccessible due to them being offered remotely,” it read.

When asked about DePaul’s response to these claims, university spokesperson Carol Hughes states that information for seeking counseling could be found on the University Counseling Services website.

“University Counseling Services has been available for students remotely,” Hughes said in an email. “Counselors are available for support, crisis management, consultation and community referrals.”

As of Friday, the petition has gained over 28 thousand signatures — a feat Davis says she owes to her friends who helped circulate it. 

“I really didn’t know if I was gonna get a huge reaction from the students,” she said. “…My friends are so key to this happening, [because] I know that they are involved with organizations at DePaul and they might be able to get it circulating a little bit better because they’re really active at DePaul.”

Marika Rydberg, a DePaul senior, was one of the thousands of students to sign the petition. 

“I am not black, but I can’t imagine the emotional turmoil spurred on all of our students through witnessing police brutality,” she said. “As a rising educator, I think it’s essential we are there as a community at DePaul to help everyone stay academically on track, and not penalize people affected by this.”

In an email sent out on June 2 Interim Provost Salma Ghanem stated that she had heard from many students at DePaul, including students who signed the petition that Davis created, leading to a faculty council meeting to discuss final exam options.

In a follow-up email sent Thursday, Ghanem addressed the turmoil caused by Floyd’s death, compounded with the existing pandemic-related anxieties plaguing students.

“Nothing can alleviate the pain so many of us have been dealing with in the past few days due to the recent horrific events,” the email reads. “Added to the stress and anguish resulting from COVID-19.”

In result of the petition, DePaul has given three options for students in hopes of relieving some stress in regards to final exams:

  • To award, at the student’s request, a final course grade on the basis of materials due by May 29, 2020, assuming that at least 70% of the graded materials, according to the learning goals of the course, had been submitted by that date.
  • To complete the course as expected, with the understanding that the final exams and/or projects may be determined optional by faculty, and all work submitted after May 29, 2020, cannot reduce the final grade.
  • To award, at the student’s request, an Incomplete (IN) without explanation and subject to all rules regarding incomplete grades, including a satisfactory record in the work already completed for the course. Faculty will clearly inform students about completing the material within a specific deadline, as per the IN policy. Note that degree conferral is June 22, and therefore graduating students would need to have their IN grade resolved prior to this date.

When asked if the university had plans to alter final exam options prior to the petition’s circulation, Hughes referred to Ghanem’s message detailing the alternative options.

The administration has been working on options regarding final exams with faculty and others and would ask you to review the interim provost message,” she said in an email. 

Davis and fellow organizer Kaitlen Crawford released a statement on behalf of all eight organizers — signed “Black Women Who Care About All of Us” — in response to the university’s actions. The statement was sent to The DePaulia. 

“As organizers of this request, we endorse the first option as a proper acknowledgment of the realities of anti-blackness in our society,” the statement reads. “The selected deadline for grading has been designated as Friday, May 29. This date is significant because it aligns with George Floyd’s brutal murder and the resulting outcry from our society against such police and state violence.”

A statement from the petition’s organizers in response to the final exam alternatives provided by DePaul University. (Courtesy of Troi Davis)

The statement advises against selecting the second and third options, as it may create more unneeded stress for both students and faculty.

“In regard to the other two policies, we highlight that they may increase the burden on faculty who are also experiencing these events along with us,” it reads. “That is why we recommend that students ask for the first option, if possible, you should not have to complete additional strenuous work and nor should faculty.”

The statement ends with the reminder of the petition’s original goals: to provide relief for struggling students and acknowledge the mental toll taken by institutional racism.

“We are aware of the critique of free-riding and complacency,” it reads. “The intention of this demand was to acknowledge that racism is not a political issue, but a social construct that has dehumanized both the oppressed and the oppressor. This sentiment has been emphasized within the past week and because of that it has directly impacted our mental capacities for adequate academic performance.”

Davis reiterated this sentiment while adding that the university had a responsibility to do right by students impacted by the highly public racially-based violence making headlines.

“It’s not like we’re just asking for finals to be canceled because we’re stressed over a pandemic,” she said. “It ties into these essential values that [DePaul] claims to uphold about diversity and inclusion and standing in solidarity with marginalized groups.”