Bad Project Partners Bane of Existence


No one likes the person who plays devil’s advocate to sabotage your answer to a teacher’s question or the semi-friend who asks you to buy them a chocolate muffin when you know that they will never pay you back. The students who double park in the junior lot are simply despicable, but the people who sit behind you in class and bounce their feet up and down on the metal basket of your chair are considerably worse in another way.

But, at the very tip-top of this pyramid of pesky, inconsiderate Campo students who, unwittingly or not, inconvenience everyone else, are the group project partners from hell.

This do-nothing dead weight, Freeloading Fred if you will, is oftentimes someone you were randomly assigned, unless you were able to select your project partners and unwisely gave into choosing your friends even though you knew they would end up leaving you with all the work.

What makes Freeloading Fred worse is that you have no means of contacting them. If you’re working with a friend, you at least have their phone number; you’re also probably more comfortable calling them out when they are slowing down the group. But Fred never checks their school Gmail, nor do they even specify when they plan on doing their share of the work.

The optimist in you says to give them the benefit of the doubt—they’ll eventually do it, right?—so you check the document the night before it’s due to see if Fred has come through.

Surprise, surprise, Fred didn’t. They don’t respond to your group’s attempts to reach out, so you swallow your frustration, put your head down, and clean up Fred’s mess. Hours later, the presentation is finished but your soul is just a bit more shattered, as is your trust in humanity. You’re tempted to leave Fred’s name off the presentation entirely just to send a message.

In a nutshell, this is what a group project at Campolindo looks like. If you don’t empathize and understand the struggle of those who pick up Fred’s slack, then you’re either lying or you ARE Fred.

Let’s just say that if I played group partner Bingo based on my experiences with the various species of terrible project colleagues, I’d be the first to win the blackout round. My fellow group mates and I have had to carry projects with Freeloading Freds, Last-Minute Lucys, Wikipedia Wills, and Absent Allys. A few times I’ve even experienced a Has-Some-Nerve Henry, who becomes upset with the person who stepped in and did their unfinished section at the last minute. Henry bites the very hand who ended up doing their slide for them instead of taking responsibility for their disorganization and shotty communication skills.

Group projects bring out the worst in people. More so than the Hunger Games or even waiting in the cafeteria lunch lines. A group project is supposed to be about teamwork and fairness, equity and cohesion, yet it quickly brings about an every-student-for-themselves mentality if just 1 group member is not pulling their weight. In short, when a single domino falls asleep on the job, the whole line comes crashing down.

I have weathered more group projects this year than in any of my previous years at Campo, and I simply refuse to sit idly by while my teachers shove me into a breakout room with a bunch of randomly assigned partners who I oftentimes have no means of communicating with beyond our brief meetings.

Perhaps when I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman or sophomore I would have put up with this—in fact, I did. But as a senior with no will to try, nor capacity to care about anything school related, I am officially done with shouldering the added responsibility of doing a group project with enough work for 5 people.

The entire unbalanced group project dynamic rests on the complacency of the hustlers of society, thus enabling the slackers to continue their sloth into future projects with different partners. This cycle can continue no longer.

On behalf of my fellow late-night grade necromancers that attempt to single handedly resurrect a doomed project, I am formally calling out all Freeloading Freds. Grow up, try harder. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or phone numbers to keep in contact, because merely ghosting the Google Doc isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Fred will only continue to slip through the cracks of the public school system if we do not take a stand and say something about it. Do yourself(and Fred) a favor and refuse to be an enabler.

As for teachers, I urge you to consider how many group projects you assign, especially during hybrid/distance learning when it’s incredibly hard to communicate with classmates. If you’re making breakout room group projects a habit, I’m nearly certain that the control freaks and project delegators of your class are dying inside.

Sometimes, teachers add a “grade your group mates” end-of-project poll to keep people honest. Like Yelp for AP students, when this poll is visible to all members of the group, it becomes yet another mechanism for freeloaders to control the narrative and weasel their way into participation points. I’ve only ever dared to give an honest review when this poll was not seen by my group mates, but it usually is (like the project) a group affair. Like most adolescents, my desire not to be seen as an uptight, tyrannical snitch is the only thing that can momentarily outweigh my pettiness. Similarly, most group project generals hold their tongues, even when their soldiers abandon the cause.

I know that during a pandemic, we are all questioning the point: the point of trying, of unmuting yourself in class, of going to school, of interacting with people we will quite possibly never see again. But giving into the woe-is-me mentality actually victimizes your group members. No one is asking for a perfect group project. Do the bare minimum, or maybe even slightly less, just please do something. Preferably not hours before the project is due, at least without consulting your group members so they can sleep at night knowing that you are going to finish your part.