I’m the compassion police (letter) | Inside Higher Ed

To the Editors:

I have been a lecturer for 12 years. My first couple of years, I tightly hung to the concept of “rigor,” as discussed in this recent essay on Inside Higher Ed. What I found that meant was taking attendance, turning on plagiarism detection software, turning students into student affairs for breaking the rules, and exhaustion.

So, I stopped.


If a student tells me they are sick, I believe them.

If a student tells me their computer died, I believe them.

If a student tells me they had a family emergency, I believe them.


I would like faculty that have the opinion of rigor over compassion to explain why they believe both cannot exist simultaneously? Rigor is poorly operationalized in this context, a trap I would expect researchers to know to avoid. Rigor is a standard we set. If an exam that cuts off at 50 minutes, prevents browser function, and requires a student to be surveilled, that exam will not necessarily be rigorous. But it will be tedious, frustrating and stressful. It sounds like policing and not at all like compassion.

My students create knowledge. My students stand on the shoulders of those giants before and learn of those in our very own timeline. They read Marx in full and learn about Goffman through conversation with others. I allow them to look up answers because extra interaction with content is a good thing. They write autoethnographies, learn to spot methodological quicksand, and tell me how our course has helped them understand the world.

None of that requires policing. It is, however, pretty rigorous.


As they say, I don’t know how to convince you to care about others. If you cannot have extra compassion after 39,000,000 cases of COVID-19 in the United States, I do not know how to convince you.

If I’m the compassion monitor, so be it. Do better by yourself and do better by your students. The rigor police aren’t better educators, just better rule-makers.

I’m the compassion police


–Alana M. Anton
North Carolina A&T State University
Tri-County Technical College
University of West Georgia


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