Campus Free Speech

Johns Hopkins Students Say First Semester Grades Give Them Depression, Should Be Abolished

'If the school is worsening my anxiety, that's their problem and they need to be held accountable for that'



Yet more students say they are triggered by one of the most basic facets of the college experience: grades. 

Johns Hopkins University is one of a handful of colleges that doesn't include first-semester grades for freshmen on their transcripts. They receive grades, but they don't count for anything. The custom was intended to ease students into university life, but officials are worried it encourages laziness, and have plans to abolish it. (Related: Oberlin Students Want Below-Average Grades Abolished, Midterms Replaced with Conversations) 

That isn't sitting well with activist students, who have organized under the banner "Re-Cover Hopkins." Not only do they want the university to return to its policy of discounting first-year grades, they want the administration to apologize for daring to change it:

"Freshmen are immediately subject to grade deflation and a cutthroat culture which has been fostered by the administration in its lack of urgency to implement a remedy. Hopkins students experience anxiety, depression, and suicide at high rates which cannot continue to be tolerated for the sake of competitive academic performance. 

Students from low-income backgrounds, first generation students, students struggling with mental health, students with disabilities, international students, and sexual assault survivors—as well as students whose experiences exist at intersections of marginalized race, gender, and sexuality—are disproportionately affected by the policy change." 

Erica Taicz, a student and Re-Cover Hopkins organizer, told The Baltimore Sun: 

"I've heard a lot of feedback from parents and the administration that kind of makes it feel like we are just trying to be coddled, and it's not it at all," Taicz said. "I'm paying so much, I expect to be able to be critical of that service when it doesn't support me. 

"I'm paying to have a support network, academically and mentally. I can't be expected to do well in class if I'm depressed and have anxiety. If the school is worsening my anxiety, that's their problem and they need to be held accountable for that." 

Taicz is right that she's paying an obscene amount of money to attend Johns Hopkins. Tuition there is $50,000 a year, and that's not even including room and board. But if students like Taicz are really just looking for a network of comprehensive mental support, there are certainly cheaper counselling services out there. 

What Hopkins students are actually paying for is a rigorous education and, eventually, a degree that demonstrates their intellectual competence in some area of study. Making college easier by discounting grades will ultimately cheapen the value of that degree. 

It's okay, of course, for the university to make specific accommodations for struggling students who have legitimate issues. But activist students seem to be borrowing the language of trauma to describe mundane discomforts. 

In reference to the new grading policy, National Review's Katherine Timpf writes, "Having to receive letter grades is not a traumatic experience, it's a normal one, and any potential students who think they can't handle it should really just go somewhere else." 

That's obviously a bit harsh. Some students experience real difficulties, and deserve sympathy. Indeed, the overwhelming cost of attending college—and the debt it implies—no doubt provokes legitimate anxiety. But in some sense, higher education must be foremost about learning and evaluation. It's just how school works.