Pomona students greenlight ASPC constitutional amendments, ‘shadow grading’ referendum

A hand writes out the letter grade of its shadow.
Seventy-three percent of Pomona voters approved a proposal to “shadow grade” students their first semester. (Helena Ong • The Student Life)

Pomona College students approved a set of amendments to the ASPC constitution and bylaws this week, as well as a proposal to conditionally grade students on a pass/no credit basis during their first semester.

The constitutional amendments passed with 91 percent support, ASPC President Miguel Delgado-Garcia PO ’20 said, while 73 percent of voters supported the “shadow grading” referendum.

Approximately 590 students voted, Delgado-Garcia added — a turnout rate of about 35 percent.

“We’re really happy with the turnout and the results,” he said.

The amendments revise descriptions of the ASPC Senate and individual positions and create new positions: the Vice President of Student Affairs and a Commissioner of Wellness. They also eliminate two committees and their commissioners: those of Clubs and Organizations and External Affairs.

Delgado-Garcia said the changes were meant to address structural limitations to various positions and enable senators to more effectively advocate for change.

For instance, he said, creating a Senate position for wellness will allow that commissioner more time to organize around issues of disability accommodations, Title IX and mental health by removing the work hour limitation that non-elected ASPC staff workers face.

“If it’s consistently been an important issue, and we recognize the structural weakness in time and money and energy, then how are we going to address that?” Delgado-Garcia said. “Making it a commissioner position. Elevating the issue areas to warrant an elected position.”

The new Vice President of Student Affairs, he said, will allow ASPC to better address issues for which the ASPC president and executive vice president were previously responsible.

“Every year I see the president struggle, because there’s all these things that they want to do through [the Student Affairs Committee],” Delgado-Garcia said. “This is giving one person the leniency, agency, time, capacity to really make things happen in those areas, because they’re essential.”

The shadow grading question asked: “Should Pomona students’ first semester be ‘shadow graded,’ meaning: (1) students are graded normally, but their transcript reflects only whether they passed or received no credit in their classes; and (2) students may petition to selectively reveal their shadow grades for specific purposes (e.g., internship or graduate school applications)?”

The vote was non-binding, since the college’s faculty has authority over academic policies, according to ASPC vice president of academic affairs Isaac Cui PO ’20.

In a TSL op-ed last month, members of the ASPC Academic Affairs Committee argued the proposal could smooth first-years’ transitions into college.

“Shadow grading would create a more equitable and less stressful first semester,” the members wrote. “It would provide space for students to find their academic passion and would strengthen relationships between first-years and faculty.”

Cui said the referendum asked students to weigh in on a proposal that faculty and administrators have already begun considering.

“Most students here have a general intuition of the institution’s missions and values, but it’s only when we have to think through particular political questions that we’re forced to seriously reflect on and crystallize those values,” he said in an email. 

The proposal is not without precedent at the 5Cs: During their first semester, Harvey Mudd College grades first-year students on a high pass/pass/no credit scale for a certain set of courses.

An ASPC publication acknowledged some of the proposal’s potential downsides, including the possibility that students might spend less time on academic work, which could hurt them in later courses that build on that material.

Cui said his next step will be to present a proposal to the faculty Curriculum Committee.

“I will also ask the Faculty Executive Committee for a full-faculty forum to widen the conversation and bring in other perspectives on the issue,” he said. “In an ideal world, we would have a full-faculty vote by the end of the semester on a specific shadow grading policy, but I have a feeling that would be very, very difficult to achieve given how big of a policy change this would be.”

Curriculum Committee chair Virginie Duzer said the committee met last week to discuss the proposal, and will continue to solicit faculty discussions and data on the subject.

Seniors also had the opportunity to vote for a new class president after Love Chery PO ’20 resigned from the position last month. They chose Khadijah Thibodeaux PO ’20, a member of the Senior Class Committee and the ASPC Board of Trustees representative for student affairs.

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