Professors seem less empathetic than they did just a year ago. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, professors seem to think our mental health problems have suddenly been resolved. The leniency on absences once granted is now revoked.
During the 2020-21 academic year, when classes were online – or mostly online – due to COVID-19, students were given leeway for attendance due to the unpredictability of the virus. We were shown a lot of empathy and understanding from the professors during these difficult times because they were experiencing the same kind of struggles as us. They told us to prioritize our mental well-being above all else and were very lenient on special assignments, extensions, and accommodations.
Now that COVID poses no major threat to most of the student body, professors seem less understanding of students’ situations. I have noticed that professors forgive missed lessons less. This seems to be most common in the smaller classes, where attendance and participation are required or are part of the final grade. In these types of classes, students are often required to provide a medical certificate for their absence so that their grades remain unaffected. This is very unrealistic, especially for out-of-state students like me, since finding a medical facility that accepts my insurance is difficult.
Pitt’s most accessible student health care provider is Student Health Services located in Nordenberg Hall. One of the biggest advantages of SHS is that students are not charged a co-pay because it is included in the Wellness fee. On his website, SHS says it now accepts health insurance as a form of payment. This is a great opportunity for some out-of-state students to have affordable health care, however they don’t accept all health insurance.
Sometimes it’s not my physical health that worries me. Instead, it’s my mental health and I feel the professors need to understand it more. I don’t go to the doctor every time I’m not feeling well, especially when the only medicine that would help me is to take a break. It is not realistic. Sometimes I just need a day off to relax and recover from the stress, but I can’t do it when I’m worried about how this will affect my grade.
Last year, students typically had a Zoom / Panopto option if we couldn’t go to class. We were able to tune into class from home or watch the recorded lectures afterwards. Most classes no longer offer this option. This makes it especially difficult for students who need a day off for mental health and who are now late for class.
Lecture recording is also a good way for students to review class materials and help with their learning. This is also a great feature for people with disabilities, as it makes classroom content more accessible.
We shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of ourselves and keeping good grades.
For example, Julia Haber, a psychology student, recalls when she flew to New York last year for stomach surgery related to Polycystic ovary syndrome. Haber said his professors weren’t accommodating and “didn’t apologize for the lessons at all.”
She said she was still expected to complete all of her assignments even when “high on Vicodin”. Haber also said: “They gave me so many homework, they didn’t give me deadlines and basically expected me to take care of it. They weren’t understanding. “
In extreme cases like Haber’s, absences should be excused. But it shouldn’t take an extreme case for professors to show students more empathy. We are all human and sometimes we just need a break from the constant hustle and bustle.
Although attendance can affect students’ performance in the classroom, it shouldn’t play a role in their grades. Professors should not punish students for not showing up in class, especially if they provide a valid excuse for missing. Punishing absences reinforces the idea that grades are more important than taking care of yourself. This is already something many students struggle with.
At this point, we need to normalize the days off school for mental health and regular breaks from work because it is the healthiest option. This fast-paced culture we are living in right now is creating massive exhaustion. This is extremely common among college students, who try to reconcile school, social life and work.
When students are exhausted and unable to perform to the best of their academic abilities, professors struggle too. The pandemic has affected all of us, students and teachers alike. We only see one aspect of their life, but they also have lives outside the classroom. During the pandemic, teachers experienced a high burnout rate, among other challenges. However, they should not place unfair expectations on students anyway.
Allowing students free days to recharge without academic repercussions would do so Optimize their performance in class. This would not only be beneficial for the Pitt students and their learning, but would also reflect positively on the professor.
Kelly Xiong primarily writes about personal health and wellbeing. Write them to [email protected].