Seventy-two hours. That’s the amount of time Emory designated for “breaks” throughout the upcoming spring semester. It’s not enough time to binge watch all of “Queer Eye,” evaluate if it’s really the right time to change your major or even take a long enough nap to feel rested. Yet these 72 hours are all undergraduates have been given over the span of three whole months, and the administration expects us to be grateful. Grateful for what? Their lack of care for our mental and emotional well-being?
Many aspects of online learning are difficult for students in any circumstance. On top of added stressors, students are forced to shift their mode of concentration and are often reliant upon consistent internet usage. COVID-19 compounds these difficulties even further due to the social isolation and constant disheartening news relating to the pandemic. This doesn’t even include personal situations, such as family members directly affected by COVID-19 or students who need to work in order to afford school.
The expectation that students can function normally during a pandemic is toxic and damaging to students’ well-being — emotionally, physically and mentally. The measures Emory has taken, such as implementing these three rest days, demonstrate how their care for students continues to be performative. Seventy-two hours is barely enough time to catch up on missed work, especially when each rest day is separated by a month. According to an email sent out to undergraduate students by the Office of the Provost, while professors are technically not allowed to assign work on these rest days, that does not prevent them from assigning long hours of work that carry over into them.
Instead of offering solutions that fail to provide considerable relief, Emory needs to be more understanding and listen to students’ needs. Twisha Dimri (23C) lamented the University’s decision to only offer three mental health days, stating “three days isn’t going to really mean a lot.” Dimri wanted to see more measures to provide academic relief in conjunction with the mental health days. Initiatives to ease pressure on students should be incorporated into our spring semester, such as encouraging professors to have more relaxed deadlines and flexible accommodations for students who encounter hardships. Dimri feels the administration hears our complaints but doesn’t actually listen to what we are saying. They assume they know the best solutions but fail to offer real support.
There are several substantive changes Emory could have made to help students this upcoming semester, and pushing back the start date for the semester was not one of them. Yes, students need substantial breaks, but the seven-week break is mostly a decision the University made to avoid flu season, not to ease students’ suffering. Interim Provost Jan Love stated the seven weeks were a “wonderful opportunity” for students to “take a very long break in terms of their own mental health and their physical and spiritual and cultural well-being.” Love’s ignorant comment illustrates how the administration fails to understand the root of students’ woes. We need substantial rest throughout the semester — not sprint through the marathon of spring.
In order to truly listen to students’ complaints, Emory should shift their mental health focus from rest days to academic relief measures. Implementing the pass-fail grading option through the end of the semester would offer more relief for students whose lives might unpredictably be affected by COVID-19.
No class should have mandatory attendance in the spring, as many students are forced to take on new responsibilities due to the pandemic. All classes should be recorded and uploaded onto Canvas so students can revisit lectures they either missed or attended but were simply unable to focus on because of external factors. With more asynchronous content, students would be allowed to operate on their own personal schedule and find the online learning system which works best for them.
Most of all, students need substantial amounts of time in order to rest. One day per month isn’t enough time to recover from the hardships of college and the outside world. We want to learn and engage, but we need emotional and mental support in order to be thriving members of the classroom and the Emory community.
Emory is failing its students. Administrators’ efforts thus far have been half-hearted and lackluster. The University must shift to prioritize both academic relief as well as meaningful breaks during which students are able to close their computers and walk away from the hellscape that is online school. Seventy-two hours across three months isn’t going to offer substantial relief. Instead, it will merely become a day once a month students are able to miss classes to catch up on never-ending work. Emory’s failure to create concrete solutions to assist students is representative of a failure to listen to what students need the most.
Illustration by Angel Li.
Rachel Broun (23C) is from Carrboro, North Carolina.