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Grieving UMD student says she was told to attend class, get work done the day of father's funeral

Saige Kratenstein tweeted the exchanges with her UMD professor after losing her father to COVID-19.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A University of Maryland student says she was shocked by her professor’s response to an extension request, after losing her father to COVID-19. She says she has made the exchange public, so that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Saige Kratenstein’s father, Alan Kratenstein, died from COVID-19 on April 13.

“Nobody understands how hard it is that I couldn’t be there… I could not say goodbye to him. I was heartbroken," Kratenstein said.

Kratenstein, a third-year business student, said she had informed her teachers her father's condition was critical in the weeks prior, but continued to keep up with her schoolwork.

When her father died, Kratenstein said she updated her teachers and asked one of her professors for an extension on a project. Kratenstein said that teacher told her to "try to get it done," saying, "I’d like to be consistent with all students because there are many who are having difficult times."

Kratenstein said she was hurt by the lack of compassion.

“When I read that I thought that I was reading it wrong," she said.

Kratenstein said on the day of her father’s funeral, the same professor wrote her again that she "would highly recommend that you attend and participate" in the online Zoom classes. Kratenstein said her professor wrote it could "help take your mind off things and this material will be on exam 3."

Kratenstein tweeted those responses and has received hundreds of responses of both sympathy and outrage – many of them from fellow students and faculty members.

Kratenstein said she doesn’t want to make the professor’s name public, but hopes UMD will take notice.

“To ensure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else- and to make sure that the professors that they hire are compassionate, understanding, and human beings," she siad.

Katie Lawson, chief communications officer with UMD, said officials with the university learned about the situation via Twitter on Thursday. Lawson said since then, a number of officials personally and immediately reached out to Kratenstein, including the vice president of student affairs, the chief of staff for student affairs, the director of the university counseling center, as well as the director of undergraduate advising for the Smith School.

Lawson said from the start of online learning at UMD, faculty members of the Smith Faculty were encouraged in an email dated March 26 to “be empathetic to the students’ circumstances. Please make accommodation and be flexible as necessitated by the needs of your students.”

Lawson said additional letters were sent out to both faculty and students on April 30 from Interim Dean Ritu Agarwal in response to Kratenstein’s tweets.

“A Maryland Smith student, who recently lost her father, shared on social media an email exchange with a faculty member. We want to assure you that we are working to address the student’s concerns and to ensure that appropriate and compassionate accommodations are made," Agarwal's email said.

Kratenstein said she does not believe the faculty member’s lack of compassion was directed at her for personal reasons; the course was a lecture with about 300 students.

But Kratenstein said she thinks her father would have wanted her to speak out and insist on more courtesy.

“I think he would be very proud of me for sticking up for myself in the situation with my professor, because he would agree that nobody should be treated that way, and nobody should be talked to that way," she said.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for Kratenstein’s family by an acquaintance on Twitter. Kratenstein said she will be donating the money to causes her father believed in, as well as organizing a memorial at a time when mourners are allowed to gather again.

Below, find the full communications sent out by the University of Maryland Smith school regarding classes during the pandemic:

The following email sets out expectations of Smith faculty at the start of online education.

Email to All Smith School Faculty - March 26, 2020

Dear Smith faculty colleagues,

As you head into the weekend to commence online teaching on Monday, I wanted to share some information regarding the students enrolled in your classes. This information comes from extensive discussions with the Provost, the Council of Deans, VP of Student Affairs, leaders of campus student organizations, and various other campus units who have been at the front-line of interacting with students in the past few weeks.

A consistent theme in these discussions has been broad agreement that students are experiencing significant stress during this unprecedented crisis. Not only were many asked to leave campus or even the country in a hurry, they are facing considerable uncertainty about the health of their loved ones. Furthemore, national, state, and local requirements to close business establishments means that many have to access and participate in their courses from their homes or places of current residence that are not always environments that are conducive to learning. There is no option to go to a library or some other quiet place. Students who have had to return to their home country may be in completely different time zones and will need to participate in the courses at odd times of the night or early morning. Families with children face the additional burden of childcare and, in some cases, home schooling.

Given these exigencies, I would encourage everyone to be empathetic to the students’ circumstances. Please make accommodations and be flexible as necessitated by the needs of your students.

I appreciate your attention to this matter. Thank you for the work you are doing to deliver the remainder of your courses in adverse conditions. In this time of extraordinary difficulty and stress, thank you also for showing kindness to our students as they also struggle to finish this year.

Best,

Ritu

The following communication was sent to all Smith faculty yesterday, urging flexablity and compassion:

Email to All Smith School Faculty - April 30, 2020

Dear Smith School faculty,

We write to you today with important reminders on academic accommodations and open lines of communication.

A Maryland Smith student, who recently lost her father, shared on social media an email exchange with a faculty member. We want to assure you that we are working to address the student’s concerns and will ensure that appropriate and compassionate accommodations are made.

Let’s all remember that this is an extraordinarily difficult time for all of us and our students. Struggles both seen and unseen are occurring all around us. In some cases we may be aware of what a student is going through, but in many others we are not.

When students reach out to us, it is our responsibility to find the appropriate accommodations, be flexible in our approach, and be compassionate and considerate in our communications. We know that many of you are going to extraordinary measures to assist students through difficult times, and we thank you. We continue to encourage everyone to be empathetic to students’ circumstances. Please make accommodations and be flexible as necessitated by the needs of your students.

Thank you for showing kindness to our students as they are trying to finish this very challenging semester.

Best,

Ritu and Mike

Email to All Smith School Students - April 30, 2020

Dear Smith School community,

A Maryland Smith student, who recently lost her father, shared on social media an email exchange with a faculty member. We want to assure you that we are working to address the student’s concerns and to ensure that appropriate and compassionate accommodations are made.

We realize that many of you are facing unprecedented challenges. Please reach out to your professors if you are having difficulty with assignments or deadlines. Your professors have been encouraged to be flexible and find mutually agreeable accommodations so that you are able to finish the semester successfully.

We also encourage you to reach out to your academic advisor, who will also be able to provide help and support.

We recognize that this is an extraordinarily difficult time for students, and we are so proud of your resilience and determination. We are committed to providing the help you need to finish the semester strong.

Interim Dean Ritu Agarwal

Associate Dean Victor Mullins

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