To ditch or not to ditch: Coachella results in empty Chapman classrooms – but at what cost?

Frequent festival goer and senior psychology major, Jessica Sampson opted out of attending Coachella this year to ensure she would finish strong academically for her final semester at Chapman. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sampson.

Aside from being a financial burden, Coachella puts students at risk of jeopardizing their grades just weeks before the end of the semester.

Coachella, held the weekend of April 12 and the weekend of April 21 this year, has historically prompted many party-minded students to skip classes on the Fridays and sometimes the Thursdays before and Mondays after, forcing epic showdowns between academic and social priorities. While some professors excuse the absences, others find accommodating students who would rather dance in the desert than meet their deadlines unthinkable – or at least annoying. Students who see no reason they can’t do it all claim they compensate by working ahead, making arrangements ahead of time and saving up permitted class absences for Coachella.

Professors agree that Coachella – which drew 250,000 people this year over the course of both weekends – results in emptier classrooms. “I didn’t have any students approach me about going to Coachella, but I did notice a lot of absences,” said Chapman English lecturer Cristina Fucaloro.

The University’s attendance policy leaves restrictions up to each professor, but it recommends that students who miss 20% of the class should fail, according to the 2018-2019 catalog.

Attendance was sparse in the classes taught by English lecturer Mark Hausmann for both Coachella weekends, he said.

One student asked for a slide, which he gave to him. “This student and I made an agreement that they would turn in a kind of journalistic write-up about their experience at Coachella, in exchange,” for attending class, Hausmann said. “I’m hoping to use their experience over the week as a situation for journalistic and reflective writing. This would actually line up with my class super well.”

Hausmann says he is lenient with what he deems excusable absences. He understands the allure of the festival, having attended several times himself, but said when he was a student he prioritized his coursework. Students need to “either fulfill their agreed-upon requirements for the course, plan their unexcused absences accordingly throughout the semester, or just take the consequences,” Hausmann said.

More than four unexcused absences may result in a failing grade in Fucaloro’s English classes. While Fucaloro understands that college students need to have fun, she doesn’t consider attendance at a music festival an “excusable” absence.

“I can understand not making it to class on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. after Coachella, but I teach on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.,” Fucaloro said. Missing class on Tuesday after a day of recovery Monday is inexcusable, she said.

But students easily rationalize trading books and lessons for listening to live music with sweating friends.

“I would miss my classes to go to Coachella any day,” said Ashley Warmenhoven, freshman communications major. “At the end of the day, I will remember my memories at Coachella over learning the preterite tense in Spanish.”

Warmenhoven, who missed two Friday classes, notified her professors of her absences ahead of time, and drove back late on Sunday night to make it to her 8:00 a.m. Spanish test and 9:00 a.m. religion test.

“It’s fine to miss class for Coachella if you are smart about it,” said Mary Morse, sophomore public relations and advertising major. “I tend to overwork myself in school, so it was refreshing to have a weekend dedicated to fun,” Morse said.

Morse said she worked ahead saved up her absences and did homework during her downtime at the festival.

Some professors allow students discretion in deciding how to use allotted absences, rather than defining what rates an “excused” or “unexcused” time off.

“Last spring, three students came up and told me they would be gone for a week because of Coachella,” said John O’Kane, professor of English.

O’Kane encouraged the students to go to the festival because they rarely missed class. “I let students miss four classes without hit on their grades, so if they come regularly then I think it’s good they go to Coachella for the experience,” he said.

Yet, it’s clear that some students overestimate their abilities to balance their academic requirements with their need to party.

Because she rarely misses classes, Emily Nelson, sophomore business administration major, said she and her three roommates worked ahead in their classes to be able to attend the first weekend. Although she had planned to go to class upon her return, Nelson and her friends didn’t get back to Orange until 5 a.m. on Monday. She knew that she would be too exhausted to retain any information in class, so she decided to sleep through her morning classes.

“It’s definitely important to work hard and push yourself academically, but I’ve always felt like the school system in the US has become so consuming that a lot of our youth is wasted,” Nelson said. “It’s okay to miss class every once in a while for something really unique and memorable. I’ll remember my Coachella trip forever, and my teachers have probably already forgotten that I missed a class!”

Senior business major Leron Nehernia chose to forgo Coachella last year because of her heavy workload.

“I always prioritize my grades, and my junior year was too challenging to get away with dancing in the desert for an entire weekend,” Nehemia said.

Now that she has less work and fewer responsibilities, she was able to splurge on a fun-filled weekend without stressing about catching up, she said.

“I wouldn’t be going if it would jeopardize my grades or ability to graduate,” Nehemia said.

Hanna Yorke

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