Words by Prof. Reya Mari Veloso
The decision to join the #EndTheSemNow campaign was not a hard choice to make. It was a decision based on compassion, solidarity, and urgency as students whose lives and homes are ravaged by typhoons fight to stay alive and keep themselves and their families afloat even as the country continues its battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
My knowledge when writing this is that 1,732 students are affected by the recent onslaught of typhoons, with Ulysses as the most recent. I have approximately 140 students in all my classes combined. Should this number be included in those devastated by the typhoons, how dare I decide that we should proceed as normal? The decision to join the #EndTheSemNow campaign with utmost urgency is one made after full recognition that the lives of my 140 students also depend on mine.
Some argue that the semester is about to end in two or three weeks—why then should they still declare an end of the semester for their classes? Time is indeed relative: for us in the academe whose careers mostly rely on endless decision-making processes in enclosed and safe spaces; time moves at a reasonable pace. We have the luxury to mull over what should be done, weigh the pros and cons, confer with colleagues over an important matter—processes that could last for hours, days, or even weeks.
But for typhoon and flood victims, their lives could change in a matter of hours or even minutes. When Magat Dam was opened, it released 6,244 cubic meters of water per second, which laid waste to Cagayan and its citizens in just a couple of hours. I am no good in math, but 6,244 cubic meters or 6,244,000 liters of water paints a clear picture of how devastating the flood was. I can only imagine how rapidly 6,244 cubic meters of water changed the course of the lives of flood victims.
When someone is having a medical crisis, the most concrete way to help is to call a doctor or an ambulance. As a teacher, I too have that burden to decide with urgency with how best to help my students, and that is to not delay my decisions. I would rather give my students the remaining weeks of the semester to recover and rebuild the homes or even lives they might have lost at the wake of this recent climate disaster.
This semester is almost no different from the last: it was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students, teachers, and even the administration were disoriented and scrambled to push through with what was left of the semester, or as most would like to call it: cope with the “new normal”.
I opted to pass all my students last semester because I deemed it was the most decent and compassionate response to the entire situation. No one wanted the pandemic to happen. No one wanted the lockdown. No one wanted this uncertainty if our lives are ever going back to normal (frankly, the concept of “new normal” is already getting old).
At a time when a global pandemic, climate disaster, and government incompetence are all plaguing the country, how can I ever value grading assessments, reading materials, or even completing course objectives more than the overall well-being of my students? I haven’t been teaching very long. Seven years is quite a short stint and would quickly pale in comparison to my colleagues and co-faculty who have been teaching for decades. But in the short years that I have served as a teacher, I have learned that compassion and service cannot ever be divorced from honor and excellence.
While a good number of teachers have already stood in solidarity with students who are participating in the ongoing #WelgaUPLB, the administration has yet to respond comprehensively to the sensible and logical demands of the said strike. I, for one, can only imagine the possibilities if the UP(LB) administration at large would choose to side with students and teachers: we could reimagine education altogether.
As I ended the semester for my classes, I told them that the core of our UP education is to always Serve the People. What better example of service is there than the administration dutifully serving its constituents. If students, teachers, and administration will work together to reimagine education, then truly, no one will be left behind.
Photo by Sophia Isabel Pangilinan
Prof. Reya Mari S. Veloso teaches writing, literature, and art criticism (read: she is no expert, but she tries). She is most passionate about making food, animé, true crime, and taking naps.
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