Op-eds, Opinions

Simpson ’20: In Response to Dean Zia

Op-ed Contributor
Tuesday, April 7, 2020

I believe that in times of crisis the true character of each and every individual comes to light. Leaders are tested, communities are strained. But in times of hardship, one can truly find out where one’s allies rest. I think the word ally is critical here; when true hardships arise, individuals need to be able to reach out to those that truly care. But the response, actions and behavior of Brown University in formulating and communicating its COVID-19 academic policies have been the exact opposite of caring.

On March 30, Dean of the College Rashid Zia wrote to the undergraduate community: “The communications that I have found the most compelling have come from students who have overcome challenges after struggling academically during their first years at Brown, and whose grades this term would document their success.” While I respect the position of Rashid Zia and understand that in some cases parties will agree to disagree, I cannot bring myself to understand this written response. 

To prioritize the stories of some over others is immensely divisive. To prioritize those who wish to prove their academic improvement over those who fear for their physical, mental and social well-being is not only divisive but a gross mismanagement of the student population. Whether or not Rashid Zia believes that a universal pass position would be the best way for the school to support the interests of students does not scale in comparison to the physical and mental well-being of its students and their families during this time. This decision reveals the true moral character of the University and its administrators. 

I’ve certainly seen, heard and lived through my fair share of hardships.  (Perhaps many would argue this would be the right place to provide an example, but weaponizing trauma in order to elicit a specific emotional response is a tactic that should never be used.) As a senior, I also know that Brown University’s campus has been a haven for many, a sanctuary for others and a home of critical resources for all. But during a time when the pandemic has dispersed us, and while the talent and passion of the faculty can still certainly be felt online, they cannot fill the gap created by our forced separation from the resources and campus environment that have supported us throughout our time at Brown — nor should they ever be asked to. Although I’ve been blessed with the resources to complete my time at Brown online, I am writing this op-ed in support of those who have not. 

Students have been asked to not only head back to their homes across the world and stay safe while potentially taking on additional burdens to help their families and communities, but they have now been tasked with completing the rest of their semester with the added fears and anxiety that a global pandemic has wrought upon the entire world. In light of this, it is far too much for the University to then ask individuals to prioritize credits and merit over what could be the lives and well-being of themselves and their families. Consider the news headlines that you have seen and consider what every student and community could be going through in a time where acts of selfishness and selflessness have become respectively prevalent and scarce. 

Brown has consistently noted that it seeks to meet its students’ needs for financial, psychological and emotional support. It is at this moment — in a time of crisis for the world, in a global pandemic that has stopped the routine functions of most countries across the world — that we should all think of and prioritize individuals and communities that need the most support. 

Uplift others, care for others, remember and prioritize the marginalized. History will remember the actions of each and every individual during this time of crisis. I hope we all take the time to remember our position and what we can do to support individuals and communities that need help more than ourselves. Consider Universal Pass, consider how it could help those that need it the most. Consider that while some may want to prove their merit and growth, in dire times such aspirations should take a backseat to ensure the physical, mental and social health of all members in the Brown community. 

Jonte Simpson ‘20 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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