By Mai Vang
March 28, 2021
It has been a year since colleges and universities moved classes online for COVID-19. The transition to online classes changed how students learn since it is harder to learn in an environment not meant for academia. It has also been difficult for students who are taking classes on a digital platform that were designed for in-person teaching. The whispered conversations in classrooms, interaction with professors in their offices and engaging with classmates before the start of class have been taken away. The only thing students have left are their laptops, phones and wifi.
The start of quarantine brought the world to a temporary halt. Having the space to think about life allowed some people to slow down and process every event leading up to this moment as quarantine gave them time to pause and rest from the fast world. While some people felt the world speed up around them, others had time for reflection.
Spending a lot of time alone does have its benefits since students have more time to themselves; however, being alone for too long can be detrimental to a student’s mental health. Self-isolation goes against everything known about human neurobiology. Humans are a social species hardwired for connection and, in the absence of authentic connection, they suffer.
To eat, sleep and work in one space can make someone feel restless because they are often working in a space meant to make them feel safe and comforted. In other words, social isolation can lead to depression, poor sleep quality and other long term health issues.
Unfortunately, giving students mental health days may not always be the best approach to helping students. It’s nice to have a day off to rest and not think about work due soon, but whenever students take a day off, they risk ending up in an infinite cycle of stress and playing catch up.
Students should be able to take a day off to rest without having to worry about working on assignments, but the system doesn’t allow for that. This makes the ‘day off’ nonexistent because even if a student takes a break from doing homework, their stress and worry only compounds, and the cruel cycle continues.
A genuine break is one in which students need not worry about the impending doom of assignments’ upcoming due dates. Giving students one day off and calling it a mental wellness break falls short. For example, Michigan State University cancelled spring break and instead gave students two days of break at a time. University of Michigan Ann Arbor gave their students one day off and called it a “well-being break.”
Instead of resting, students are using these days to finish any missing assignments or cram for an upcoming exam. The concept of a mental health day is also inherently flawed in that just one day can only do so much.
It’s vital to remember that mental health struggles are not one-size-fits-all. While some students may benefit from a day free of academic responsibility, another may feel more overwhelmed without the normalcy coming from a routine of classes and homework. What everyone can likely agree on, though, is that these proposed “breaks” from universities sorely fail at supporting students.
Grind culture also plays a huge role in this. Because some people were able to take the time to do things at their own pace at the start of the pandemic, getting back into the fast-paced work has proven to be difficult as many students have expressed their struggles online within these new digital communities. Students face issues such as Zoom fatigue, computer problems, internet trouble and migraines from too much blue light.
Universities claim they want to stop students from travelling in order to prevent the spread of the virus, which is why many of them got rid of spring break this year. However, many universities fail to realize that classes are online and often asynchronous, which gives many students the opportunity to still travel during the pandemic. Spring break was never just for cruises and trips to Florida. For many, it is a time to rest and recharge.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased the levels of stress and depression among students as they battle isolation and the never-ending deadlines of virtual education and the utter uselessness of random days off. Perhaps what students really need the most right now instead is empathy, grace, and understanding for ourselves and one another.
Mai Vang is a senior under the College of Arts and Letters majoring in professional and public writing. Her main focus is digital content creating and many of her creations are heavily inspired by Studio Ghibli. In her free time, she likes to experiment with video and photo editing in hopes to be more flexible with her skills.