Senior Week to remain, but it’s still in flux for future years

Drawing of a calendar of May 2022, with question marks around senior week.
(Selena Lopez • The Student Life)

5C administrators have been looking at doing away with Senior Week, the abridged end of spring semester for graduating students, but the tradition will still be in place for this academic year.

In past years on campus, seniors have been allowed to take their final exams a week before graduation, so as to have their grades finalized in time to receive their diplomas at commencement ceremonies. Spring exam week for the rest of the colleges, then, becomes “Senior Week” for each year’s graduating class.

Seniors usually use this week to spend time together as a class, in a culmination of their time together. “For Mudders there’s typically some sort of arranged trip,” Alexandra Loumidis HM ’22 said. “It’s a big time and space for the senior class to kind of regroup and bond together.”

Earlier this semester, the consortium’s Academic Deans Committee (ADC) discussed potentially rolling back the altered calendar.

“The ADC approached the 5C chairs of faculty and said that they were considering aligning senior finals with all other finals and mailing diplomas after the commencement ceremony,” Pitzer College Chair of Faculty Brent Armendinger said via email. “They wanted to know what we thought.”

But as of early November, the proposal isn’t going forward for 2022.

After the 5C faculty chairs initially considered the idea, “we discussed it, brought it to our individual Faculty Executive Committees (or equivalent) for input, and then sent our feedback to the ADC,” Armendinger said.

The Pitzer Faculty Executive Committee (FEC) saw merit in the proposal, Armendinger said, because it would alleviate the strain that holding seniors’ finals early puts on both faculty and the registrar’s office, in addition to allowing for better learning outcomes for seniors themselves.

“​​Under the current system, faculty have to grade all senior final papers, projects, and exams in … a day and a half (or less),” Armendinger said. “Not only is this workload excessive and unsustainable, we are concerned that the quality of grading and feedback suffers as well.”

Seniors have to continue to learn course information and study for and complete their finals all in this compressed time period.

The idea of ending the semester a week early for seniors was brought up as an item for discussion at a Pitzer Student Senate meeting in late October, according to Senate President Kaila Teague PZ ’22.

“We understand that Senior Week places extra strain on faculty and are sympathetic to that,” Teague said.

But in discussions of the proposal, she said, students expressed how, after two years without in-person commencement ceremonies, having a graduation with the vital element of diplomas feels important to the culmination of their college experiences.

Additionally, Teague said, it “would be incredibly unfortunate to not receive diplomas at commencement for students that are from first-generation, BIPOC, low-income, formerly incarcerated, international, etc. backgrounds that may have communities viewing the commencement ceremony as a celebration that concludes their undergraduate experience.” 

The diploma, she said, represents that for quite a few students. This was a prominent viewpoint raised during Senate discussions of the issue.

In addition to student concerns about Senior Week’s possible cancellation, “​​faculty members of the FEC also noted the impact of the pandemic on students and the fact that there are few traditions at Pitzer, recognizing that Senior Week is important to many,” Armendinger said.

The faculty chairs were in favor of holding finals for seniors at the same time as those for other students, and sent the ADC a letter to that effect, with the caveat that they “recommended that it not be implemented until next academic year, so that students this year could have senior week.”

Seniors are relieved that they’ll still get to experience the tradition. 

“Not only is [Senior Week] something that you see the years before you do,” Loumidis said, “but … to have the space to also almost “wrap up” your personal relationships and your friendships and say goodbye to everybody … that feels important.” 

Loumidis hadn’t heard any talk about this discussion over Senior Week and said she would have liked for the conversation to be better communicated to the wider student body.

For Nandini Mittal CM ’22, Senior Week wasn’t something she was especially familiar with. 

That said, “creating a more cohesive class culture has always been a focus” for her grade at CMC, especially this year after such a disjointed and distanced last year and a half, Mittal said. “So I would feel really bad, especially if that was something that didn’t get to be capped off with a tradition that did exist.”

Kendall Packman PO ’22 also referred to the importance of having community after more than two semesters spent online.

“Even as a senior who’s a semester behind, we’ve all lost so much time together due to the pandemic that it doesn’t really make sense [to cancel Senior Week],” they said. “Especially with the idea and the central pillar of senior week being this sense of community and camaraderie and enjoyment before going out into the real world.” 

Loumidis didn’t assign much weight to the rationale of concern for students being forced into heavy work loads in condensed periods of time. 

“[It] maybe holds some amount of truth, but I think it could be something a lot of seniors are willing to sacrifice,” she said.

Packman also questioned that line of reasoning. If students’ learning outcomes and the prevention of intense workloads in short periods of time were a priority for the colleges, they suggested, there would be greater efforts at communication between courses and departments around assignments. Packman cited midterm season as evidence of the way the current schedule already results in time crunches.

According to the letter from the 5C faculty chairs, faculty do understand students’ desire for a Senior Week and for a graduation complete with diplomas. The 5C chairs recommended that graduation ceremonies be delayed by one week in years to come, Armendinger said, in order to allow students to have a Senior Week while also having seniors take finals with the rest of the students in their courses.

Loumidis viewed this solution as a good compromise between the different factors prompting debate over Senior Week, but Mittal wasn’t so sure.

“I think it would be kind of sad for seniors to have the exams with everybody, but then, [if] the time that they have with each other is when the campus is isolated otherwise,” Mittal said. “It’s not the same thing … There is some fun to being able to be on campus when everybody else is still around but be able to engage with them in a different way, but I understand the logistics of that, so I mean it’s better than nothing, for sure.”

She also worried that, with a week between exams and graduation and only the senior class on campus, seniors might just leave and do things exclusively with their own groups of friends, missing out on the bonding experience Senior Week is meant to be.

Discussion around the cancellation of Senior Week will undoubtedly continue, especially since, as Mittal said, “if [Senior Week is] happening this year, then the entire next three years of cohorts will know that it’s a tradition.”

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