Amidst fears of COVID-19, UC San Diego has requested that professors podcast starting Spring Quarter 2020. However, it should not have taken an epidemic to temporarily implement a change which has been long overdue. UCSD needs to standardize podcasts for courses not only as a response to this health crisis, but also to compensate for the many factors students face that make class attendance unreasonably difficult. As a commuter and as someone who battles with depression, showing up to class is challenging. The amount of energy it takes to find a parking spot (especially with the closure of Hopkins structure), shuttle to campus, and finally, show up to class can be draining for anyone—not just someone who struggles with mental illness.
With the amount of students UCSD is admitting, the expansions it is attempting, and the parking structures it is demolishing, UCSD needs to cultivate a more inclusive campus for its current students. Standardizing podcasts would alleviate a great amount of pressure on all students, including those that are sick, those that might have trouble focusing in class, or even students who prefer to review lecture material while studying.
It is unfair of the university to create barriers, such as difficult parking and lack of accessible podcasts which disproportionately affect lower income and/or disabled students while still maintaining a narrative that class attendance is of utmost importance, especially since many of these students are forced to commute due to lack of accessibility and financial barriers. If UCSD wants students to always attend classes, then it needs to cultivate an environment in which attendance is feasible for all students. In the meantime, the university should make podcasts mandatory and accessible to make up for the barriers that make class attendance challenging.
Some professors might argue that class attendance is essential, however, I find this to be quite ableist, and even egotistical. In light of the American College Health Association 2019 report which found that 45% of students have felt so depressed that it was difficult to function, and 65% of students experience overwhelming anxiety, I believe that offering more accessible lectures benefits everyone—not just those who cannot make it to class.
While students have the option to get connected with the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) to request podcasts and/or lecture notes, this is a lengthy process that requires a great amount of time and energy—appointments can take up to three weeks to secure. Requiring that students use OSD to gain access to podcasts is not only an ineffective system, but it transfers the responsibility of making lectures accessible from the school to the student, and does nothing for students struggling to attend for reasons not related to disability or those who lack proper documentation to gain access to OSD benefits. Instead, UCSD needs to make it possible for all students to succeed by standardizing podcasts.
If a professor does not feel comfortable podcasting their class, they should be required to offer alternatives to students, such as posting their lecture notes—not just their slides which tend to only scratch the surface of material covered that day—or have a few students volunteer to post their notes that would be accessible to anyone.
Even the current podcasts are not necessarily a sufficient tool, and should be refined to be more accessible. Schools such as UC Santa Cruz have the option for their webcasts to be captioned. Including captions makes podcasts a more versatile tool especially for those who struggle with hearing and/or processing lectures. Requiring captions also makes podcasts easier to follow along with, especially if your professor has an accent, speaks faster than you can keep up with, or if English isn’t your first language.
Students from various backgrounds deserve to have their needs accommodated. This includes lower income students, disabled students, commuters, and those that struggle to make it to every class. With the current state of parking, the mental health epidemic which renders campus resources insufficient, and amidst fears of Coronavirus, UCSD needs to not only emphasize the standardization of podcasts, but also work to make podcasts a better tool. By failing to provide consistent podcasting, UCSD is failing to adhere to its commitment of diversity and inclusion.
Grace Garber is an Assistant Opinion Editor for The Triton.