Augsburg Professors Enforce Ableist Attendance Policies

Annabella Castillo, staff writer

During a global pandemic, illness can spread from student to student on what seems like a whim. Even if you wear your mask and get vaccinated, you’re still not completely protected. So why are we still enforcing ableist attendance policies?

We live in a world that values productivity over health. In years past, students in middle and high schools across the country were rewarded for having perfect attendance records – for managing to make it to school every single day. These rewards obviously aren’t for simply having the good luck to avoid illness, but rather to encourage students to continue attending their classes when they’re sick. In universities, this manifests as getting points for attendance, sometimes adding up to 20% or more of your grade in the class.

In the current climate, this is unreasonable. Students are forced to quarantine when they experience symptoms until they receive a negative test. This can take several days; the student has to find somewhere to take their test as well as wait for their results. Why, then, are there still classes in our university today that have a three absence limit?

“Use your absences wisely” is what I often hear professors suggesting. As students, we have no control over how many times a year we get sick. Some of us have weaker immune systems. Some of us are even immunocompromised. If I happen to feel sick more than three times, I’m penalized? How does that make sense?

The concept of attending classes while sick is genuinely frightening. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had no problem going to school with a cold, the flu or anything else. I was once even sent out of the room because my cough was “too distracting” to the rest of the class. Now, attending classes while sick has real, tangible consequences. I could spread COVID-19 –  which for many people is indistinguishable from a cold – to someone who has vulnerable family members or is vulnerable themselves. Inadvertently, my presence while experiencing symptoms could cause someone else’s death. 

Sure, professors will tell you not to go to class if you’re feeling sick. But they will also penalize you through attendance points.

I understand the concept. I’ve seen many college students show up for the first week of classes, then skip most of the remaining semester. Professors want to encourage students to actually attend and participate in the class, and if students can take any day off while still receiving all of their attendance points, they’re likely to abuse that freedom. 

However, weighing the worst of the two options … would you rather students skip class for no legitimate reason without penalty, or that they spread COVID-19, forcing a student or their family member onto a ventilator?

I also think there’s merit in not attending classes due to reasons that don’t necessarily fit typical guidelines. Mental health days can be incredibly helpful and rejuvenating, especially in the middle of burnout season. Or if you experience something personally troubling, but don’t want to delve into all the details in an email just to be allowed an excused absence. 

Additionally, all of the above reasons assume that the average student is healthy. There are students who are mentally ill, chronically ill, or otherwise dealing with something that may impact their attendance. The concept of attributing points for attendance is ableist at its core because it assumes that all students have equal ability to come to class, which simply isn’t true.

Living in the day and age that we do requires change. Old policies aren’t effective anymore. Under the crushing weight of a global pandemic, students should be afforded the opportunity to determine their attendance for themselves.