Common Knowledge Mistake

4 Nov

The spring semester of my freshman year, I was enrolled in English 102. English had always been a subject I enjoyed. In high school I never had any issues and I absolutely loved my teachers. English 101 was not so bad, but English 102 has been the hardest class I have taken in my University of Arizona career and here’s why.

In the middle of the semester, I had to turn in a large paper about a controversial issue. The class only had a small selection of topics to write about. Having already taken Latin American studies classes, I decided to write about illegal immigration. This paper was worth a significant 35% of my grade. I spent hours writing this paper, I went to the Think Tank for help, and when I got my paper back with an F, I was extremely confused. On the first page of my paper, my instructor had circled one line: “Christopher Columbus came to the Americas in 1492.” On the last page of my paper, he told me I plagiarized, and that I did not cite my source for when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas.

My overall grade in that class went down to a low D. I was terrified. I knew what a D would do to my GPA and I knew that if I got an F in the class I would have to retake it. That was not something I wanted to do, since I had already decided at that time I was going to try to graduate a year early.

What came next was a series of repeating office hours, my instructor stuck by his decision and told me that he was not going to change my grade. He truly believed that my sentence about Christopher Columbus was not common knowledge, and I should have cited it. Next thing I know it is May, after my final my overall grade was a 69%. Again the TA was unwilling to boost me up to at least a C, even seeing how hard I worked all semester and my continuous effort. At that point, I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go to someone higher, or if I should just GRO the class. I went home did my research and found out that I could appeal my grade.

Step one of the appeal was meeting with the department head. The woman I met with helped me and told me she believed that I had a very strong case, but that I had to meet with my TA again to tell him that I was going to file an appeal. He still had one more chance to change my grade before it turned into a very long paperwork process. I met with him and he didn’t change the grade. He even tried to dissuade me from going through the process, but I persisted. I met with the next person up the chain, my instructor’s supervisor, and she warned me that I was entering a long process that I was unlikely to win. But I persisted and went on to submit all my work to a committee from the Dean’s Office. They would decide the outcome.

Months went by and I heard nothing. Finally this past summer (almost a year later) I received an email that my grade had been switched. The committee ruled in my favor!! I was so ecstatic! I could not believe that I had actually won, and that people agreed with me that that sentence was common knowledge!

This process dragged on for months, way longer than I ever anticipated. It took hours of my time to meet with all the required people and write up a statement as to why I deserved a higher grade in that class, and why my paper deserved a higher grade.

The moral of the story is to first be careful about your own assumptions about assignments. Second, always be an advocate for yourself, even when others don’t believe in you!

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