Opinion: Militant Attendance Policies as a Vector for Disease

By Terra Hobler, Opinions Editor

Terra Hobler ’26 (Photo Sofia Gutierrez/The Gettysburgian)

Attending higher education is a privilege that many do not have. As someone who is currently attending Gettysburg College, I am extremely grateful to be fortunate to afford the obscene cost of furthering my education beyond high school. Of course there are times when I do not feel so fortunate, like when I am writing a final paper the night before it is due or entering my fifth hour of reading articles and textbooks for a class that will not utilize them in the slightest. It is during these times when I am flooded with work and the obligations of extracurricular activities that I wish I did not have to sit in a lecture for an hour, knowing that I will only be able to think about the many things I have to immediately get to work on after class gets out. There is the dimension that mandatory attendance promotes a class culture of participation, which is one of the most alluring aspects of Gettysburg College, and my own personal failings to adequately pace my work should not allow me to skip class. However, there are many extenuating circumstances that create much more valid excuses for missing class, and the militant necessity of attendance in many situations creates dilemmas and stress where there shouldn’t be.

Typically, a course allows for a certain number of excused absences, which are supposed to account for the aforementioned extenuating circumstances. The number allotted, while varying by professor, is typically much too low to effectively prevent students from using them when they should. There is a culture on campus that promotes students going to every class that they are on campus for, which often ends up hurting the experience of other students. Illness on this campus comes and goes in waves, when there is a sickness around, almost everybody will catch it. If a responsible student wishes to stay home from classes for a week in order to avoid infecting their peers, they are likely to use up all or most of their excused absences. Most professors in my experience have been very generous when it comes to getting sick, and they will not make absences from illness impact your grade, but that is a conversation that students need to have with their professors, and many students would rather suck it up and go to class sick than to risk lowering their GPA. The fact that their syllabus will say that beyond “X” number of absences each additional absence will incur “X” amount of reduction in final grade is an extremely threatening and intimidating prospect to students, which results in many students attending class while profusely coughing or sniffing, often without a mask to prevent others from catching their cold.

Threatening to lower a students GPA for simply trying to quarantine themselves for the betterment of the entire campus is not a productive way to ensure that students remain healthy and, in return, studious. The widespread nature of these attendance policies mean that in almost every instance of the “frat flu” breaking out, nearly every student will contract it. If professors were more transparent in their sympathy towards sick students, perhaps we would see a reduction in attendance of infectious students, which would in turn reduce the opportunities for that sickness to spread to the other students in classes.

It is incredibly upsetting to come into class and have the student sitting next to you coughing the entire time, especially with no mask. There are too many times where I walk into class and by the end of it, I know fully well that I will wake up tomorrow with a sore throat and a runny nose. There is also little concern about worsening the learning environment of classrooms with more forgiving attendance policies as well, as many of the more visible symptoms of colds and illnesses are in themselves quite distracting, especially when thinking about what those distractions might mean for your own health.

Allowing for more absences could certainly encourage certain students to skip more classes than would be productive for them, but at the end of the day, students at a place of higher education are choosing to attend classes. They should come to class of their own volition and not because they are arbitrarily being punished for their lack of presence. If they begin to skip too many classes and their grades suffer because of that choice, so be it. Education is a privilege, not an obligation, and making it so creates a more hazardous and upsetting learning environment for all.

This article originally appeared on page 10 of the No. 2 April 2024 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.

Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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