“Out of a Crisis: The Voices of Our Students” is a new series, launched by the Globe’s Great Divide team, that publishes student essays, poems, artwork, and videos featuring teenage perspectives on learning and living amid a pandemic. The stories are published in the Great Divide newsletter.
Editor’s note: Last fall, Jasmine, a sophomore at a public four-year university in Massachusetts, received an e-mail from one of her professors telling her she was failing her class. This essay is an edited version of Jasmine’s belated response to her professor. The 20-year-old, a graduate of a Boston high school, says she never received a response.
Jasmine is not the author’s real name. She is not being identified to protect her privacy.
Dear Professor: When I got your e-mail, I absolutely didn’t know how to respond. Parts of me felt deeply discouraged and ashamed, while other parts of me felt that I should persevere and not give up.
Dear Professor: How do I find the words to say that I’ve struggled? It was hard to navigate my first semester of college without a compatible computer. I suffered from “imposter syndrome” walking into class everyday. I felt the cold glares of rich students staring into the poverty of my soul each lecture. I heard their ignorant remarks in the back, testing my character and validation to be there. When I had to publicly admit that my lack of wi-fi prevented me from completing an assignment, they mocked me, saying that I must have cricket wifi, the cheapest kind. I noticed the side glances when they bragged about “Daddy’s Business” while I was the only Black girl in class from the hood.
Dear Professor: With all the time that had passed since I got your e-mail, I was scared that it was too late. Too late to turn back and too late to fix anything. Perhaps if we’d gotten the chance to meet, I could’ve expressed all that I needed to say to you. When the school shut down, I lost a lot. The university was a vital academic space for me, with multiple resources that I did not have at home. There was access to printing, access to unlimited Internet, access to a computer and access to a library where I could take advantage of free books. I lost all those resources during the transition to remote learning.
Dear Professor: Did you know that as the oldest of 6 siblings (ranging from ages 5 to 18), all of whom live under one roof, I found myself contributing to my household while trying to keep myself academically afloat? When the pandemic hit, it had an impact on my family’s finances. We struggled to afford food, technology materials, and other necessities.
Dear Professor: Did you know that I almost lost my life just for a computer and WiFi? Throughout the summer of 2020, I worked relentlessly in hopes of purchasing a computer. However, as a youth activist for Teen Empowerment, I was placed in some dangerous positions. After the protest, the site where I worked was burned down. Thankfully, none of my fellow organizers and I were hurt, but we knew the risks.
From Covid to killings, death surrounded me. Over the summer, I found myself organizing my grandfather’s funeral (He died from dementia-related causes). Between organizing protests and funerals, I still tried my best to persevere in school. I really did.
Dear Professor: I hope you know, I am not the only low-income student going through this. A lot of the young people who are getting left behind attending college remotely are Black and brown students. So many young people are getting displaced from their dorms, becoming homeless, losing access to WiFi...I can go on about the wealth and income disparities, but a student’s financial situation should never define them as a student.
Before remote learning, I had an outstanding GPA, and I know these last few months do not reflect my potential as a student. However, I want you to know that this is not the end. Even if I do fail this course, I will make sure to express these concerns to the university. I will make sure to work with the university on equity for low-income students, so that we don’t fall at an academic disadvantage due to lack of resources.
I hope you are just as passionate as I am about fixing this pandemic of racism plaguing the educational system. If not, I don’t understand why. I wish you well during these unprecedented times. And if you never get back to me, I hope you can empathize with what it’s like...to fail in a virtual world.