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As we approach COVID-19’s anniversary on College Hill, the University is better equipped than ever before to handle a pandemic. From the automated COVID-19 test reminders to the plexiglass dividers in the dining halls, Brown has created its own “new normal” to keep members of the campus community safe. 

But something crucial remains missing from the University’s pandemic response ― a true understanding of the continued social and emotional effects of the pandemic on students. In a rush to regain some pre-pandemic normalcy in the classroom, many instructors and administrators have neglected to acknowledge that there is, in fact, nothing normal about our “new normal.” If Brown truly takes care, it must create a more accommodating academic experience ― one that actually prioritizes students' overall well-being. 

The stress caused by this semester’s shortened academic calendar cannot be overstated. Midterms, problem sets and group projects are sources of stress in normal years, and even more so during a pandemic. We need some rest. But it is difficult to have any when the University has tried to do too much with too little time. Spring break has been removed without any adequate replacement. We recognize that, as has been the case throughout much of this pandemic, concessions have been necessary. Had Brown maintained the normal length of a semester, first-years, who already have to enroll in four contiguous semesters, would be even more strained. Nevertheless, the shortened nature of this semester has taken a problematic toll on many of us. 

The University’s accelerated academic calendar has only been made worse by a lack of top-down oversight for classes. There has been little standardization of how instructors should have adapted their coursework. Many have attempted to cram a regular semester’s worth of content into this semester’s shorter time frame. Some even require additional participation unusual even in a regular year, whether through additional lectures or virtual discussions. And others have opted for a minimalist approach instead, with students interacting primarily with pre-recorded versions of their instructor.

This inconsistency has been especially damaging amidst a pandemic. Undue academic uncertainty and stress should be avoidable in a world where so much ― our health, finances and more ― is already in flux. The University administration should have set better guidelines for courses this semester, perhaps by instructing professors to remove material from syllabi instead of condensing the same material into less time, or by putting mechanisms in place to actively ensure that instructors are more considerate of student circumstances. We don’t have extra free time right now, but the entirely serious emails we have received from professors suggest otherwise. If anything, we have less time, not just because of the extra work on our plates, but also because of the challenges to our well-being that we are all facing from this pandemic. 

To be clear, many professors and lecturers have made sincere efforts to make the best of remote learning. As students, we are deeply appreciative of the thought and energy instructors have put into adapting ― and even enhancing ― the learning experience for students. Still, even the most well-designed teaching plans will fall short in a virtual semester; no matter how engaging a lecture or discussion is, Zoom fatigue can set in. And structural challenges, whether they be time zone differences or unreliable internet connections, make it harder for students to learn, in spite of everyone’s best efforts.

Some issues just can’t be fixed. But professors, lecturers and teaching assistants alike can help their students a great deal by simply being empathetic. Instructors need to recognize that, for the time being, their classes might well be the least of their students’ worries. Classes may have to make some concessions, and sacrifice some assignments in order to give students some breathing room. More broadly, instructors should be receptive to the individual struggles of their students, some of whom are quite literally dealing with matters of life and death.

Our world is one of plastic dividers, masks and social distancing. We are all attempting to deal with unparalleled social and emotional upheaval, and we’ve all found ways to cope. But inconsiderate academics only infuse unnecessary stress into a time that is already unlike any other in recent memory. Things are not normal. Our classes shouldn’t try to pretend like they are.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. This editorial was written by its editor and assistant editor, Krista Stapleford ’21 and Johnny Ren ’23, and members Olivia Burdette ’22, Devan Paul ’24 and Kate Waisel ’24.  


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