It takes more than a poster
Many aspects of campus life at Washington University seem to spike during finals season: the number of coffee orders in Whispers, the mountain of deadlines that students juggle and, unfortunately, the overall stress level among the student body. Wash. U.’s demanding environment, when combined with as the driven personalities of students handling the school’s workload, produce a culture of stress that is especially prevalent during this time of year. This pattern isn’t confined to Wash. U.’s campus alone: Around the country, thousands of college students are facing the same challenge of performing well on tests and papers before the semester ends.
Around the time of midterms, I first noticed the Project Let’s posters taped to the bathroom stalls in Olin Library. They emphasize that a stressful culture exists at Wash. U., and they caution that consequently participating in unhealthy behaviors “is not healthy or okay.” These are valuable posters for students to see, but posters alone won’t enact change. Students and faculty need to promote more positive academic mindsets in order to feel a true difference in the campus environment.
On the list of suggestions provided by Project Let’s, one in particular stood out to me — “Be honest about your schedules—are you overcommitted?” At Wash. U. especially, busy schedules are a key component of student life. I frequently hear the questions of “What are you involved in?” and “Are you looking to get more involved?” around campus. Wash. U. students’ ambition and motivation are impressive; I enjoy learning in an environment where my peers bring different experiences and interests with them into every conversation. However, I sometimes wish that the focus of students, myself included, was placed more on the quality of their commitments instead of the sheer quantity of them. The next time somebody asks about campus involvement, can we challenge ourselves to include the reasons for why we enjoy our commitments (instead of simply running through a list of their titles)? Small changes in the way we talk about our schedules may help to foster more positivity around the workload, both academic and extracurricular, that we face during finals.
An additional aspect of generating a healthier culture includes the structure of finals themselves. The classes that I have enjoyed the most this year have been the ones in which professors emphasize that certain deadlines are flexible. For example, a final exam might be optional, or the due date of a paper might be revised so that students can process the material more deeply instead of rushing through it in the interest of time. I realize that the structure of classes vary widely at Wash. U. depending on departmental policies and course content; the demands of an introductory class are not the same as those of a 300 or 400 level one. However, slight changes to syllabi, even unexpected ones, can make an impactful difference in the pressure students feel when completing a week’s worth of work.
Managing deadlines and responsibilities is a crucial skill to learn in college. There is no question that the classes and environment of Wash. U. teach students invaluable skills as they move forward personally and professionally. Regardless of how much we enjoy our school, however, the Project Let’s posters serve as an important reminder that during periods of intense studying and testing, there is always potential for small changes to be made that can promote more positivity on campus as a whole.