The past two (almost three) years have been a whirlwind of chaos, fear and anxiety. To make that timeline shorter, the past few weeks have been as crazy as ever. With classes resuming in person, the omicron variant firing up and world events culminating, I can see that students and people, in general, are struggling. As the week of love comes to an end, there is some appreciation and love that should be given.
Personally, the past semester and year have been intense. My long-term boyfriend passed away, two close friends of mine passed away within months of each other and just a couple of weeks ago, my brother passed away as well.
Amid all of this, I transferred from Berkeley City College to the great UC Berkeley. The transition — as well as these events — made it extremely difficult to begin my first semester on campus. Nevertheless, I trudged on.
This semester, I was blessed to not have to disclose my traumatic experiences to receive accommodations. Instead, each one of my professors made it abundantly clear that we are humans experiencing unprecedented times and the random scenarios of life that occur. With these statements of acknowledgment came features of the class they had created in order to not make school just another stressful experience to endure.
These features vary from makeup weeks throughout the semester to getting to miss certain assignments without any questions asked. Upon hearing this, I felt a weight on my shoulders lift. Not only did I feel like I had room to ask for help if I didn’t understand an assignment past its deadline, but as someone with immense trauma, I could also sigh with the relief that I wouldn’t have that conversation over and over. It reopens wounds that I have been working on healing and ultimately forces me to experience my trauma with people who barely know me.
This then led me to my realization that no one should have to disclose their traumatic events to be seen as a human — especially within the academic institutions we pay for.
There are stories I have heard from various students who have encountered professors adamant about being an obstacle to student success. Students have been told to consider taking classes another semester when they ask to attend remotely for personal reasons; they have been told they cannot miss a class without expecting a penalty of some sort; they have been told to prioritize their class over anything else.
The remarks made completely dehumanize students, making our lives revolve around class — and that is a fake reality.
Here’s the reality: Students are returning to in-person classes with a higher rate of mental health issues than before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the Student Experience in the Research University, or SERU, conducted a survey with 30,725 undergraduates and 15,346 graduate students. The SERU found that when compared to 2019, 2020 sees two times higher the rate of major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder is 1.5 times higher.
These types of obstacles do not go away because we are back in person. My hope is that professors and GSIs are aware of this phenomenon when they are setting up their classes. A simple acknowledgment to the students that they understand we are in a pandemic is not enough — students should feel supported by the professors in actual ways.
I thank my professors and others like them for not just talking the talk but showing students that these classes are for us and that instructors can make the decision to not be obstacles — but assets — in a student’s success.