With the quick turnover from in-person to online classes in mid-March, many students have faced numerous additional changes, including shifting course policies. For students confused and uncertain about whether these changes followed institute policy, the newly created student resource Ask Burdell offers guidance.
Ask Burdell was founded by a group of students and is based on their common experiences seeing a lack of academic student support. Fifth-year AE Emily Hale is one of the founders and offered additional insight to the Technique.
“It really started because me and a couple of friends were … really frustrated about the fact that students quite often don’t have anyone to help [them] when they have an issue with a class,” said Hale.
Hale explained how many of her friends would turn to her for advice, signaling the growing need for the wider community.
“When I had another friend in AE being like ‘Hey, I’m struggling in this class, I want to try and go through the academic grievance process, but I don’t know how,’ I was able to help her go through that and explain what the next step would be,” said Hale.
In Fall 2019, Hale and a group of friends agreed that it was time to form a group to solve this issue. “The idea is that Ask Burdell is this group of students,” said Hale. “There’s currently only seven us, from a bunch of different majors, who are there to be that informed friend for someone who might not have the informed friend.”
The name of the group itself reflects their goals. “George P. Burdell has supposedly taken every class at Tech,” said Hale. “He’s graduated with every degree. Everyone knows who he is. If you needed someone to give you advice on how to cope with an issue in a class, George P. Burdell would be the perfect guy.”
Ask Burdell hopes to target any student who feels like they are not getting the information or support they need.
The group decided to begin operations when classes moved online.
“We were like, ‘Okay, we all want to do this, we have enough of an idea of what we want it to look like,’” said Hale. “We’re sitting around with possibly slightly more free time than we had before, and there’s definitely a clear need now.’”
In terms of how exactly Ask Burdell plans to assist students, the group is focusing on three core tasks.
“Part one is just sharing information with everyone, like sharing information about policy, sharing information about resources just through social media and going forward, hopefully some other means too,” said Hale.
The second resource Ask Burdell will provide is redirecting students to the correct people to solve an issue, such as contacting Dr. Kyla Ross, the Assistant Vice Provost for Advocacy and Conflict Resolution, to fill out an academic grievance form.
“The third thing is, if a student reaches out and has an issue that they want to go through and try and get resolved, we want to be able to be peer support,” said Hale. “That’s part of the reason for assigning a case to one of our students.”
Hale emphasized that the academic grievance process can be intimidating for students.
“You are a student who’s going to go and meet with a bunch of faculty and administrators, and explain why you don’t think you were quite often given the grades you deserve,” said Hale. “It’s really difficult to go and turn to faculty and be like, ‘Hey, this professor you’ve been working with for 10 years, I don’t think is doing a good job.’”
Oftentimes, Hale pointed out, if policy has been broken, it is easy to flag that and get fixed, but most issues she has seen have been harder to pinpoint.
“It revolves a lot around unclear syllabi and unclear grading policies, and a lot of things that fall in this gray area where they’re not technically an academic grievance where policy has been broken,” said Hale. “They’re just not necessarily what should have been done.”
So far, Ask Burdell has been pleased with its engagement with the student body.
“I think in terms of engagement with people seeing the information, we’re really happy,” said Hale. “A lot of people have seen the posts [on Facebook] about information on … what’s changing and reached out to us and been like, ‘Oh, we love that this exists.’”
In the future, once in-person classes resume, Ask Burdell plans to focus on expanding their existing structure and perhaps even implementing in-person meetings between students and Ask Burdell members.
“Our dream goal for the future is that we would have someone on Ask Burdell who was in every major, so that when you email us and you’re having an issue with a class, we’ll know someone who might know that professor already or we’ll definitely know the school chair, which is so helpful in terms of navigating the academic grievance process,” said Hale.
Because several of Ask Burdell’s current members will be graduating in the spring, there will eventually be a need for new students to fill positions.
“With the way the semester turned and everything, it wasn’t something where we were easily able to recruit people we didn’t know,” said Hale. “But the goal … would be something where anyone could sign up and we would have training, some kind of application process so that if you’re someone in your major who wants to help students and has a base-level of knowledge about this, that we can utilize that.”Although Ask Burdell is not actively recruiting, students who are interested in helping out in the future and have experience dealing with faculty and administration in their school, as well as CPR and Safe Space Training, can email askburdell@gmail.