Staff Editorial

STAFF EDITORIAL: Dear Professors: As We Struggle Through the Pandemic, Give Us a Break

Mary Chappell | The PhoenixAs Loyola reaches two months of online classes, professors shouldn't lose sight of the pandemic's unique impact on students.

When Loyola closed its campus in the spring and abruptly sent students home due to COVID-19, most professors were extra patient with students as they adjusted to stay-at-home orders and the uncertainty of living through a pandemic.

But this semester, some professors’ mentality seems to have changed. Many courses are as rigorous as they would be in a normal, in-person semester, with a number of exams, papers and other assignments. 

What hasn’t changed this semester are the levels of anxiety and depression students are facing — if anything, the struggle is greater with COVID-19 cases once again rising in Illinois and a looming presidential election that will shock the nation no matter the result.

We understand the desire to get back to the feeling of a normal semester. But the thing is, college won’t be normal again for a long, long time, and we’re all — students and professors — struggling to cope with this reality.

So it doesn’t help when dozens of due dates are stacked up relentlessly with no slack when we have trouble completing them. For some, it’s often hard to get out of bed in the mornings and do what we need to do. 

According to a report released over the summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a disproportionate number of 18-24-year-olds surveyed had seriously considered suicide and at least one “adverse” behavioral or mental health symptom was reported by more than half of the survey participants in that age group. 

Another survey on mental health through COVID-19, conducted by the Student Experience in the Research University, found that major depressive disorders had doubled from 2019 to 2020 in some undergraduate and graduate students. It also found with this demographic that generalized anxiety disorders were 1.5 times higher in 2020 than in 2019.

Loyola’s Student Accessibility Center offers mental health accommodations to students for classes if they can prove a disability with documentation signed by a licensed professional. But many students may not be able to afford mental health services to get the needed documentation. Others might not have a clinical diagnosis — but this doesn’t mean they’re not struggling through the pandemic with loneliness or other natural feelings. 

Not only this, but it’s also harmful for professors to shame students for keeping their cameras off during Zoom classes. In reality, some may not want to show their living quarters or may be too anxious about their appearance to get on screen. Some professors have gone as far as docking points for students who don’t engage visually.

These strict measures make sense for classes such as acting or public speaking, but many courses are simply a lecture or a discussion — in which case speaking through the microphone should be acceptable for those who are uncomfortable.

What’s more is Loyola axed fall break this semester and forwent the two days we typically have off in early October. The absence of the short break hurt more than we thought it would once midterms rolled around, and it’s been incredibly difficult to push all the way through to Thanksgiving.

We understand that our education is just as important this semester as any other, but some professors and administrators could do more to accommodate students who are hurting right now.

Most of us aren’t trying to be lazy, disrespectful or intentionally check out of classes. We’re simply trying to stay afloat with the many things we’re told we have to care about pandemic or not — grades, career development, friends and self-care. 

Loyola’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) sent out an Oct. 7 email to its professors including resources for adjusting teaching during this semester. Attached was a 38-page guide for how to teach during a crisis and an infographic about the pros and cons of using cameras on Zoom. It pointed out positives such as fostering a feeling of community but also mentioned how requiring students to show their faces can make them uncomfortable or self-conscious. 

Ultimately, the ball is in the court of Loyola’s faculty and administration. Hopefully, the CAS email has helped some professors understand how the extreme circumstances of this semester require adjusted teaching methods and increased flexibility with students. 

We’re in the middle of a pandemic and every aspect of life has had to adapt. We can’t go back to pre-pandemic expectations when “normal life”  is still years away.

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