Opinion: Is college family?

By Jacob Pierce, @JacobPierce1_DE

Andrew Johnathan Ruiz was one of the few people who looked normal in a blue denim jacket, the kind a greaser from a 1950s movie about motorcycle gangs would have worn.

He not only looked normal in this, he wore it with the utmost style. 

People remember the oddest idiosyncrasies about the people they love, no matter the shape or form the love takes. Some people remember high-pitched laughter, others the way a person ate their favorite sandwich. What I remember of Andrew right now is that damn denim jacket.


It was his cape, his cowl; he wore it so naturally that Andrew may as well have been born in it. The jacket was a part of him, and the odd piece of fabric really encapsulated who the man was. A blue collar factory worker, mixed with a punk-rock comedian. He was something else.

Andrew is not with us anymore. He died on March 12 at about 2:50 p.m. A day deeply engrained in my memory.

It had first come to me as a rumor. Living in a small town, word of one’s death tends to travel quickly. Neither I nor the group of friends around me could believe it at first, so we went on with our night. Some dumb rumor was not going to ruin a fun spring break night. After a couple of calls, what was thought to be speculation turned out to be fact.

Devastated does not come close to describing how I felt. As a writer, I pride myself on being able to describe how I feel. Having the ability to always come up with the right word. There is no right word. It felt like a piece of me was gone, ripped out while I was distracted.

All of the “dealing with death” stereotypes hit me at once. I slumped down on my friend’s porch and I stared off into the distance for a great deal of time. When I was up, my feet barely held me, my legs about to bring me down. I walked until I could not walk anymore, bent over and broke down.

So coming into the week after, I figured I would have to head home from school at some point. The death happened so suddenly, no one expected the visitation date to be out right away. On Monday, I learned the visitation was Friday—I had a test on Friday.

This appeared worrisome at first. Home being nearly six hours away, I would need to leave Carbondale before the test time to make it there. The stress dissolved; if I were to tell my math teacher right then, I should be good. This is not the first time in the history of tests some had a visitation come up. I would just have to take the test before Friday or the next week.


Apparently this was a huge deal. I received an email back that said unfortunately, there are no makeup tests in this class. This came as a surprise, as death seems to be one of the only reasons for missing a test. After another email exchange, I was told the teacher was not allowed to give the test early or late. So after some advice from a coworker, I went higher up the food chain.  

After talking to this person, I was assured there was a large chance of me getting an extension, they would just have to talk to the professor. After almost a week of waiting, I was given a verdict—still no.

The reasoning behind it was the class had more than 1,000 people in it, and it was impossible to give an alternative testing time for reasons like this. There was an option given—the class has a drop test.

I would just have to take a zero and get the test dropped. 

For a student like me, this option is not much of an avenue at all. I stress about grades, and schoolwork is something I work hard on. I give this class my all, and I am not getting a failing grade by any means. Now any time I look at my grade, the zero will be hanging with it until the end of the semester.

The visitation of a close friend is no less of a reason than a game to an athlete. This is not to argue against athletes getting an alternative testing time, it is just an example of the double standard in this situation. Athletes are provided alternative times and dates for making up exams, this visitation was just as good of a reason.

I was willing to work within the schedule of the Mathematics Department. In my emails, my availability was made clear. I would take the test early, I would take the test late. I would take it anywhere in the department they offered. Anything they needed to feel comfortable.

As with any college, Southern Illinois University likes to talk about students being a part of a family. We go out and support our college like it is flesh and blood. Yet, situations like this make me feel like the family ideal is only going one way.

We are a family when the college needs us to be one, but not when we need them.

Occurrences like this make me question whether Carbondale was the right choice for school. For a university that prides itself on being personable and more focused on students, this is quite the opposite.

Unfortunately this situation‚ and therefore SIU, has made an already painful two weeks, so much more stressful. SIU should have a more concrete and fair policy for alternative test-taking—one without any double standards involved.