How our institutions are failing us
At the moment I am typing this my phone notifications are exploding with outrage from an email that students at my university — we’ll call it “CollegeU” for this article — received. It stated that in lieu of the five-day spring break we are accustomed to we would be receiving two wellness days over a month apart from each other in which the university “ will offer instruction-free days…to allow for rest…” and “instructors will be asked not to schedule exams, quizzes or assignment due dates on the days immediately following…”
From my text messages, tweets, and GroupMe chats everyone is asking the same thing. How the HELL does “CollegeU” think that is an appropriate consolation prize? This semester we had no fall break and lost a day of our Thanksgiving break and the majority of us are crawling to the finish line of the semester. And “CollegeU” responds to that with…two days…during spring semester…the historically more hectic and stressful of the two semesters for most students, and that was before the pandemic, racial unrest, and impending economic collapse on TOP of everyone’s personal worlds and problems.
What. The. Fuck.
No, really, what ARE they thinking? Do they think students are doing okay right now?
Let me speak for myself and say I am not okay! I’m so far from okay. I told my therapist verbatim recently, “well when I do things that I used to enjoy like write or read it feels like my brain doesn't light up anymore. So little actually makes my brain light up these days. Tasks that used to be manageable, like school or meals, are really hard. I have diminished capacity and what feels like insurmountable expectations. ”
THAT IS TEXTBOOK DEPRESSION. I HAVE NO DOPAMINE.
Now, read that again. Now consider that I am not an anomaly at all. Every one of my peers I have interacted with has shared that they’re experiencing this in some form or another.
But I’m actually not surprised that CollegeU did this. I’ve spoken to quite a few friends recently and shared that I feel that against all common sense and goodwill institutions like “CollegeU”, including our federal government, have taken a “survival of the fittest” approach to dealing with pandemic life. Collectively American society has decided, we will foolishly press on in the face of a global pandemic and refuse to bend our knee to the reality of the situation(i mean we do hate kneeling don’t we).
The reality of the situation is this: we’ve lost so much. Many of us have lost friends and family from Covid. We have lost jobs, opportunities, trips, experiences. We have lost our lives as we knew them. Some of us may even feel we’ve lost who we even are. That sucks. That hurts…and yet we are refusing to grieve. My therapist specializes in grief and they always like to note that grief isn’t always about physical death but can be any type of loss. The loss of a person, a job, a relationship, an object, and a dream can all trigger the grief process and the pandemic has made it possible to lose all of that and more in the span of a week. Grief is begging us to yield. Not quit. Not give up, but yield, pause, process, care for each other, care for ourselves in a way that is rooted in reality.
Yet, institutions have refused. The old way of life has died, and instead of acknowledging it, burying it, paying our proper respects to it, and figuring out how to move on without it, we’ve elected to dine with the corpse and call that our “new normal.” How grotesque.
The way I see it we’ve decided new normal does not mean adapt a new way to function under our new circumstances; no we’re using it to mean shoehorn the expectations and productivity of the Old Life into the reality of the New Life at the expense of our collective wellbeing. Whether we like it or not our minds and our bodies are responding to the reality of New Life. Again speaking for myself but knowing that I’m not the only one, my mind is lonely. My body is tired. My mind is erratic and flooded with anxiety. My body is in rebellion against my wishes for it to perform to the capacity it used to…and they took my spring break. After taking my fall break. After the pandemic took my capacity. After racial unrest took my peace. After social isolation took my loved ones.
And they refuse to meet me, and other students at our new capacity. When the pandemic started in March “CollegeU” instated a more flexible past policy so that instead of just one course a semester, you could make multiple courses pass/fail to accommodate the upheaval the pandemic caused. Now, this school year the original policy has been reinstated, but I’ve yet to see the pandemic stop upheaving our lives. Please tell me how 6 months into a pandemic I am better off than I was at the start? Institutions like mine and society at large are failing to take in the erosive cumulative effects of being in this pandemic across the long term. We are functioning as though we will only survive by continuing to adapt to the extenuating circumstances. That is the textbook definition of survival of the fittest which is DARWINISM. Ya know the foundation of eugenics, that thing? Yeah, probably not the best model to function off of.
And to what end are we doing this? Grades? GPA? Producing a competitive pool of applicants post-graduation? What we can tell employers we accomplished during a pandemic? WHO CARES.
No, really who. gives. a. fuck! It’s a fucking pandemic and you want us to supersede our diminished capacity and failing mental health to make the dean’s list?? Please tell me in detail how you will comfort someone’s grieving mother with their GPA when you call and tell her they’ve committed suicide. No, really I wanna know. And don’t tell me that’s out of the realm of possibility when more than a quarter of young adults have contemplated ending their own life during the pandemic. I have heard from someone’s MOUTH that they feel more likely to die by suicide than Covid and in my mind, I AGREED, but yes, take our spring break. Don’t prioritize our wellness as human beings to ensure our academic/career future is solid, but whether or not we’ll be here to see it is totally negotiable.
Arguably a five-day spring break is a baseline, we should be asking for more. More therapists. More resources. More academic leniency. More breaks. More care. In a usual year, maybe spring break is enough, but this year students are being hit from every direction and college doesn't exist in a vacuum. This year we need more than the baseline to adapt to the increasingly challenging circumstances…and “CollegeU” has the audacity to deny us that.
Well, I say we don’t let them. Ideally, CollegeU receives this righteous anger and feedback and rescinds their decision, but they’ve failed us before so I’m not resting the onus of possibility there. Maybe professors individually will recognize how egregious this is and take it upon themselves to work breaks into their syllabus, space out assignments, give flexible due dates, and lower the stakes, but professors have failed us too so I won’t rest the onus there either. No, the onus is on us — students. I say this so seriously:
If they won't give you your break, make one.
Take. Your. Break.
You do not owe this institution your sanity or your wellbeing. If they will not meet your needs preemptively meet you have the right to meet your need yourself, and we all have the right to rest and care. Don’t be afraid to send that “I won’t be in class today email” or don’t send it if you don’t have the capacity and just don’t show up. What will they do? Be mad about it? So what. Who says their expectations are more important than your wellbeing? As disappointed as I am in my institution and the country at large to adapt in a way that centers care and not productivity or profit I am not surprised. I however will not be succumbing to it, and you have the choice not to either.