Op-Ed: We are not okay

Ranen Miao | Class of 2023

10 weeks into this semester, I am here to send the message that things are not okay. I am tired—emotionally, psychologically and motivationally—and I know many of my peers are too. Maybe it’s the Zoom fatigue, the social isolation, the crushing weight of racism, the COVID anxiety or the economic depression, but paired with no breaks during the semester and the arbitrary stress of classes, I have never wanted to drop out of college more. At the heart of this crisis is this: Wash. U. is not meeting student needs. Students have already made countless sacrifices in shifting to distance learning, abiding by COVID-19 guidelines and choosing not to travel home for Thanksgiving. We deserve to have our needs met in kind; Wash. U. must respect our rights to rest and take care of ourselves by granting us a proper break.

There are things within our control that are not being done. To start, we need more mental health days. Current plans for next semester only offer two—one in March and one in April. It is essential that we have at least five, compensating for the loss of Spring Break, but ideally more, and ideally consecutively (because look at the world we’re living in). We need faculty to truly increase flexibility, and we need to institute accountability mechanisms to stop professors from assigning deadlines the day after a “break” or punishing students for lack of attendance. We need to ensure students are guaranteed extensions on work when unexpected circumstances happen—nobody should have to worry about a test or assignment on a flight home to a funeral. At its core, students cannot succeed if we do not have adequate time to rest, process and heal.

We should also restore pass/fail grading and withdrawal policies for this semester and next, like those instituted in the Spring 2020 semester: The U.S. pandemic is worse than it was when this policy was first implemented, and there are thousands of students who are off-campus or remote who do not have equitable access to study space and stable wifi. With over 247,000 deaths and spiking cases, maintaining a high GPA or making the Dean’s List is not and should not be our priority. Opt-in pass/fail is not a radical ask—it is the policy at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, American University—and it is a moral imperative for us to implement as well. The New York Times reported that more than a quarter of people 18-24 contemplated suicide in the month of June. Preserving mental health is literally about life or death.

For my fellow students: Join SU in demanding better by signing our petition for more mental health days next semester here and signing this student petition for academic flexibility here. Take care of yourself by drinking water, sleeping, eating your meals, checking in with and calling friends, going to therapy and exercising. Communicate your needs to your professors (I emailed my professor last night that I will not be doing the homework because I was going to bed). And, don’t forget: This is not normal, and it is okay to not be fine. We will take care of one another and make it through this stronger.

Washington University claims to care about its students, and learn our names and our stories—but those words are hollow if we do not make radical changes to how we approach the remainder of this pandemic. This is my name and my story: I became a leader because I love this community profoundly, and the people I love are hurting. I am terrified of the mental health fallout if we continue to proceed as if all is normal. Student mental health is just as important as physical health, and we must act now if we want to create a sustainable rest of the academic year.

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