old car with metaphors of student challenges(mental health, covid-19, housing,inflation) in the back seat. Interstate sign above signalling two paths: student debt, burnout.

“No Brakes” / Illustration via Celia Brand

I’m sitting in the $800 bedroom I’m renting. I hear my four other roommates in the rooms around me. My back aches from the $5 stool I bought on Facebook Marketplace. My Zoom camera is turned off to hide the tears streaming down my face. 

My education is supposed to be my priority, but my world is falling apart around me.

My mouse hovers over the ‘Drop Course’ box on my online student record. I hear my heartbeat in my ears. 

Do it. 

Defeated, I close my laptop and go to bed. 

 

* * *

 

University students are facing the hardest years of their lives. 

Our studies are supposed to take the front seat, but we’re scrambling to find affordable housing, groceries cost an arm and a leg, and our mental health is in the ditch. 

The front seat is empty and we’re trying to squeeze everything in the back.

Students are the most stressed-out they’ve ever been. But somehow, we’re supposed to keep going. 

We’re supposed to smile through the pile of assignments, balance school with a full-time job, stave off rising rent, all while making sure the fridge isn’t completely empty.  

We’re hungry for a home-cooked meal, but hungrier for balance. Starving for a semester with our mental well-being placed in the driver’s seat.

Dear professors, we need you to understand.

Fall 2022 is the first semester in over two years that VIU has returned to an almost-normal learning environment.

But while COVID-19 is mostly behind us, the side effects are not.

According to The National Library of Medicine, “Mental health issues are the leading impediment to academic success,” and have become increasingly worse since the pandemic, “affect[ing] students’ motivation, concentration, and social interactions.” 

“​Over the past 2 years, I would rate my mental health to be 5.5/10,” VIU student Jenna Sharp says.

With a recent diagnosis of ADHD and anxiety, Sharp found it increasingly harder to prioritize her studies. 

“My worst fear is not being able to do as well as I think I can, even with my new knowledge about ADHD.”

And now in 2022, there is no affordable housing to be found, and the price of everyday life has skyrocketed. 

Joeleen Bredahl, a German exchange student, says finding affordable student housing has been nearly impossible. “VIU Residence had no space, so I either had to live in a sketchy basement suite or rent an Airbnb for my four-month stay,” she says. “I chose the latter.” 

Students aren’t finding homes. They’re finding pit stops, praying they’ll have enough fuel to make it to the end of the semester. 

“We are still able to afford other expenses such as groceries. However, there are months where it is tight, which is an added stressor on top of my studies,” Mikaila Tombe, a domestic VIU student, says.

Students are struggling with their mental health and are now expected to handle a severe housing shortage. Oh, don’t forget about extreme inflation. Do forget getting an A on the midterm. 

It’s all too much. 

Masks no longer cover the burnout seeping through our words. In some cases, sick days are back to being detrimental to courses, and mental health days are non-existent. 

Dear professors, we need your support. 

Office hours need to be a priority. Students are lacking the in-person classroom support they had pre-pandemic. 

“I wish there was more one-on-one learning and more time in order to have meetings with professors,” Sharp says.

Professors schedule two hours a week to meet with two class sections. This is not enough. 

“I struggled a lot getting help, and there weren’t very many opportunities to sit down with my professor and ask the questions I needed to,” Sharp says. 

And I know professors are trying. 

Trying to get students into office hours, talking about external resources, and overall doing the best they can. 

Both parties are driving through unknown territory. 

But professors have to understand that many students are in four or more classes, working a job to make ends meet, and also trying to make deadlines. 

We need flexible, quality time with our teachers.

And quality time will build a stronger professor and student relationship. 

The Harvard Gazette suggests taking office hours to a new level. Go for a walk around campus with students, meet outside office hours, and try to be more accommodating for students’ busy schedules. 

“Staying open and flexible is a relatively easy shift with positive repercussions for our students,” VIU Graphic Design Professor Nancy Page says.

Rapport helps create a safe space for students to confide in their educators about mental health struggles and the struggle of being an adult.

“I remember what it was like being a student. I was often broke and stressed-out trying to balance work, life, and school,” Page says.

Yes—we’re all of the above. 

We need professors to take into consideration that our identity in life isn’t just ‘student.’ 

So, what I ask is this: check in with your students, whether that be biweekly or monthly. An email takes five minutes to write, and it could turn a student’s semester around. 

Empathy and deep understanding will be crucial this semester. 

This means understanding that deadlines are probably the biggest stressor for students. And while asking for a three-month extension is unrealistic, asking for a week is not. 

Student Cassie Balcombe says there is “no consistency,” when asking professors for extensions. “Some professors are supportive of students, while others only give a few-hour extension when you have COVID.” 

Workplaces accommodate sick workers. There is no reason professors can’t do the same for students regarding both physical and mental health. 

The learning outcome can still be achieved while giving students leniency and acknowledging the outside forces at play.

This can also be accomplished by manipulating course structure; assigning fewer, but more in-depth projects; and just being there for your students. 

“It’s essential to remember that while things may be ‘Back to normal,’ many students are still struggling,” Page says. 

This is where it all comes together. 

Flexible office hours, open communication, and extended deadlines if a student is in need of support. This is the recipe for a healthier and happier semester for both students and educators. 

So, dear professors, take off your teacher’s caps. 

Look at your students. 

And realize, 

We need help driving the car.

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