On Oct. 15, sophomores at Oxford College received the news that they will not be returning to campus for spring semester. This means that the Class of 2021 will have only spent a semester and a half on the Oxford campus before transitioning to the Atlanta campus for their junior year.
Fielding questions from sophomores regarding spring semester plans, the Oxford College administration held a town hall on Oct. 16 to address sophomores’ concerns. The administration discussed sophomores not being able to return to campus, mental health services and a pass-fail option for classes, among other topics. The decisions the University made, along with their inability to adequately address the concerns of the class during the town hall, reveal Oxford’s apathy toward their sophomores. Oxford must do more to accommodate their second-year students.
When asked why Oxford decided to not rent out local hotels for sophomore housing, the administration’s response was weak. Dean Douglas Hicks said that the administration had “conversations with local hotels” but “decided that hotel living was not the full Oxford experience” and was unsure whether “having a few more sophomores back was worth the challenges.”
Although being a few miles from campus is not the “full” experience, neither is being locked at home hundreds of miles away. Anusha Tanneru (21Ox) remarked that the chance to see friends in person would be “more of an Oxford experience than [she’s] had all semester.” Now, sophomores won’t be able to see each other until next fall on main campus. Oxford’s decision is inconsiderate and forces Oxford students to continue with a nonexistent social life.
Considering that Oxford has already rented out some hotel rooms for COVID-19 quarantining and that they’ll have two months of winter break to prepare, I am confident the administration could easily find enough hotel accommodations for sophomores desiring to return to campus.
To alleviate the pressures of online schooling, some sophomores asked for pass-fail options, but Oxford has dragged their feet on this. Hicks reasoned that if Oxford went pass-fail and “peer schools didn’t, it might disadvantage [sophomores] … in ways [they’re] not thinking about.”
Besides the fact that many peer schools such as Princeton University (N.J.), Georgetown University (D.C.) and American University (D.C.) are offering pass-fail options, not even allowing students to have a choice prevents them from considering their mental health, further implying they don’t know what is better for their own well-being.
Additionally, Hicks commented that sophomores should continue with regular grading, even if grades “don’t feel good,” downplaying the mental health crises many sophomores are undergoing. One anonymous sophomore admitted to wanting to cry every time they “step away from the computer” and said they can’t remember the last time they “slept and didn’t feel guilty about it.” To characterize these emotions as just not feeling good is akin to saying depression is just being sad.
In response to concerns over mental health, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Valerie Molyneaux recommended during the town hall that stressed students “take a walk away from [their] computer” and “admire a bird if [they] have one outside [their] flat.” Hicks told students to take fewer credit hours and “don’t overload.” These suggestions are wholly inadequate and flippant. The workload has been tremendous this semester, and, according to Laura Cocroft (21Ox), sophomores have to take “classes all day” and don’t have “free time and time to study.” There is simply too much work to walk away from, and many need more credits to meet their major requirements and to graduate on time.
In addition, being off campus also removes many students from access to mental health facilities at Oxford. Online schooling negatively impacts mental health, so the decision to keep sophomores away is especially dangerous to those suffering from mental illnesses.
Despite all of this, there is a chance for the administration to make amends. On Oct. 17, after the town hall, members of the sophomore class drafted an email demanding better mental health services, opportunities for more sophomores to return to campus and transparency from the administration. They sent this email together in solidarity on Oct. 19. Oxford must submit to these demands. Please, don’t leave the sophomores to suffer by themselves anymore.
Martin Shane Li (22Ox, 24C) is from Rockville, Maryland.