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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Learning Assistant program changes selection process, cuts 26% of returning LAs

The LA program is implementing a new policy to give more students the chance to serve as LAs, according to LA Program Director Dr. Sabriya Rosemond.
The exterior of Stevenson Center 4, which houses many STEM lecture halls, as photographed on Sept. 30, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)
Ophelia Lu
The exterior of Stevenson Center 4, which houses many STEM lecture halls, as photographed on Sept. 30, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)

Starting in Spring 2024, Vanderbilt’s Learning Assistant (LA) program will no longer guarantee positions to LAs with two or more semesters of experience. Of LAs with at least one semester of experience, 26% were not rehired for next semester, compared to the 48% of LAs with two or more semesters of experience who were not rehired.

LAs can continue their role only if their position is available after first- and second-time LAs are assigned. In the past, the LA program only hired new LAs to fill open positions not taken by returning LAs with at least one semester of experience, who were guaranteed spots.

As a result of this policy change, many veteran LAs have not been offered positions for the Spring 2024 semester due to the large number of first-semester LAs from Fall 2023 who have applied to be LAs again in the spring. A total of 78 returning LAs applied to continue their role in the Spring 2024 semester. Of these LAs, 53 are LAs with one semester of experience, and 25 are LAs with two or more semesters of experience. The 85 available positions next semester will be filled by 58 returners, which includes 45 LAs with one semester of experience and 13 LAs with two or more semesters of experience. The remaining 27 spots will be filled by new LAs.

The new LA selection policy is the result of an internal equity audit, according to LA Program Director Dr. Sabriya Rosemond. Rosemond led LA programs at other universities before coming to Vanderbilt in July 2023. 

“Creating a more equitable LA program requires thinking about resources — who has them, who has access to them and who is left out,” Rosemond said in an email to The Hustler. We’ve begun to ask ourselves how the program’s existing policies and practices aligned with our goals around creating equity- and inclusion-focused institutional change and what changes we can make to be better aligned with our values.” 

One point of concern in the equity audit was the limited opportunities for students to serve as LAs under the current selection policy, which the report considered “a possible source of inequity.” Another concern is the strain put on the system when many LAs in a course graduate, requiring fewer returning LAs to support many new LAs as they learn their role.

The equity audit also acknowledged the benefits of the current system, including LAs’ predictable source of a campus job and the lack of required training when most LAs are returners. 

Senior Helen Yang, an introductory biology LA, also told The Hustler the experience led her to an interest in teaching.

“The LA program benefitted me personally because it helped me realize that I have a passion for mentorship and education,” Yang said. “It has guided me to realize my future career goal of wanting to be a medical educator.”

Rosemond said the change will also prevent widespread LA turnover in semesters following the graduation of many experienced LAs. The new selection policy seeks to ensure a consistent mix of new and returning LAs serving in most courses to make the program more sustainable long-term. 

Many returning LAs expressed frustration with the timing of the new policy, which was announced after applications for Spring 2024 LA positions were due.

On Sept. 14, LAs received an email from the program encouraging them to apply for the Spring 2024 semester; it did not mention the policy change. Spring 2024 LA applications were due on Oct. 1. LAs did not receive communication about the policy change until Oct. 3, when an email from the program announced the new policy and listed criteria for how LAs returning after two or more semesters would be selected.  

Three-time physics LA and current Head LA Grace Ward, a senior, did not get assigned a position for next semester. Ward told The Hustler she thought the Oct. 3 email was unclear about changes to the process. She added that she was surprised when she and the rest of the LAs in the physics class in which she works did not receive assignments.

“This sudden change, and the intentionally vague email that did not outline the policy change, makes me and the other affected LAs feel as though we are not a valued part of the team,” Ward said in an email to The Hustler. “I am extremely disappointed with how the LA leadership team allowed this to play out. They lacked transparency by not informing anyone of the potential changes before applications were due. When they eventually did disclose changes, it was done in a deliberately vague manner.”

Rosemond acknowledged the lapse in communication and explained that the program is attempting to give LAs more opportunities to ask questions and express concerns about the program and the policy change.

One hiccup in rolling out the change was our timing in sharing the change with our community,” Rosemond said. “Informing everyone after the application opened has led to unintended stress, confusion and misunderstanding of the policy. We’re attempting to ameliorate this by providing opportunities for more communication with the leadership team.”

The LA Program sent an email to LAs on Nov. 2 explaining the purpose of the policy change more thoroughly and foreshadowing possible future leadership positions for experienced LAs who do not receive positions. The program is also hosting two meetings in November for LAs to talk with Rosemond and Assistant Director of the LA Program Thomas Clements. 

Some LAs were upset with the policy itself and disagreed that it would promote students’ feelings of comfort and belonging in the classroom.

“I will really miss being an LA next semester,” Ward said. “Being an LA is primarily about being able to connect with students and make them more comfortable in a STEM classroom. Without the continuity of LAs being in both semesters of a sequenced class, I think the program will stray from this mission. Rotating through LAs makes us seem dispensable and not valued as team members who create change.”

Looking forward to next fall, Rosemond anticipates fewer LAs returning for a second semester than this semester. About half of first-time LAs in Spring 2024 will graduate this spring, leaving a maximum of 19 returning LAs that could apply for the following semester.

With the number of LA positions growing each semester as more faculty work with LAs, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to offer more of the positions reserved for experienced LAs to those who have three plus semesters of experience,” Rosemond said.

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About the Contributors
Lauren Lamson, Staff Writer
Lauren Lamson (‘27) is from Madison, Wis., and is majoring in communication of science and technology in the College of Arts and Science. When she’s not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys running, attempting to solve crosswords and drinking lattes. You can reach her at [email protected].
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Director
Ophelia Lu (’26) is double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering. She previously served as a staff photographer. When not covering events and sports games for The Hustler, you can find her listening to Spotify religiously, studying at Starbucks or attempting to make food out of the random things she bought. She can be reached at [email protected].
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truth teller
2 months ago

probably because most of them were fucking useless