My main takeaway is that Covid-19’s presence exacerbates every difficulty that students previously had in every facet of our lives. This seems to be exponential as well. Challenges of greater intensity have become more intense and more pervasive. Students experiencing issues such as homelessness or hunger may no longer have access to their only accessible resources. Students with mental health problems feel isolated and helpless. We’ve all been told our lives are on hold, but for many students this means literally upending their current and future plans in an extreme way. Universities would do well to prioritize flexibility and compassion for these students rather than increasing their stress.
Data and Methods
In addition to reading/viewing the required materials and weekly journaling, I interviewed two close friends of mine who attend college. One friend, Rachael lives near Cleveland and attends an approx. 4,000 student school and has not seen any closures this semester. My other friend, Ravesh, attends school at Drexel and has been back and forth between the US and his home country of Sri Lanka twice during the pandemic to support his family while trying to finish his last two quarters.
Questions I asked:
What has been the most challenging part of living through the pandemic in regards to your education?
Has your school been supportive? Is there anything you wish they’d done differently?
Have you had a strong support system/how has your family been affected?
Do you feel your education has suffered at all?
Is there anything you want to tell me about something you have observed in relation to college and Covid?
Before getting into a discussion surrounding Covid, it is important to note that university students were already used to getting through by the skin of their teeth when it comes to financials. In Hungry to Learn, Joey makes almost offhand remarks about the challenges that going hungry on a regular basis presents to him. He notes how much better he feels when he is able to eat properly at his air force base and that he lost five pounds during midterms. “You have to be healthy in spite of the difficulty and the stress of all the classes.” He’s communicating the reality that many students feel: our challenges are secondary to our academic performance. We’re often made to feel that our very real challenges are excuses to receive extensions, or we say nothing out of fear of getting this response. This was true before Covid, and feels doubly true now. Both of my friends that I interviewed mentioned sucking it up and saying nothing to their professors when they were struggling this semester out of fear of their response, and I can relate to this as well.
Professor Goldrick-Rab notes that even before Covid, students are “being asked to do things [previous generations] never imagined having to do in college.” Eve notes that she won’t even be able to register for classes if she cannot pay the holds on her account from visiting the health center. To me, this is blatantly throwing in her face that the college’s bottom line is the only concern that they have. Ravesh told me about how he has felt that in his last few quarters more than ever his university has seemed minimally worried about his health and financial standing. Having to return to his family was an extremely costly trip. Ravesh also lost his job when he had to leave, making his brief return in the fall all the more complicated. Despite this, and despite receiving plenty of emails stating that students in crisis could receive assistance, he still felt incredibly overwhelmed about having to make it all work while still worrying about his parents and younger siblings’ wellbeing as well.
Nicholas Casey’s article discusses how a huge group of people have lost access to work with nowhere to turn due to lack of community resources or programs like unemployment dealing with major backlogs. His discussion of how Covid is impacting individual students exposes the huge variety of circumstances that students not only came from, but must now return to and even prioritize in many instances. It also discusses a multitude of students who were forced to make complicated survival plans once schools shut down. Many students, like Ravesh, had to return home to aid in their family’s survival as well. Students who previously helped to provide for their families were finding that this position is now a full-time, all encompassing job. This is in contrast to other students mentioned who were able to retreat to their families’ vacation homes and essentially wait all of this out with minimal responsibilities.
The documentary also strongly notes the tone deafness that many campuses seem to generally portray. Luxuries such as sushi bars and tanning beds are mentioned as the priorities of some universities. These institutions seem to prioritize pandering to affluent students and families while sometimes entirely neglecting their students who struggle with finances. A telling moment is when Shaquara’s advisor tells her that she can use her grants to cover her additional expenses such as books. Shaquara tells her that she already has her grants but still could not afford books in her current semester, and her advisor tells her that maybe her professors will be willing to help her access the books she needs. Though it’s not the advisor’s fault that this was the best answer she could provide, it exposes the issue that low-income students have to rely on the hope that their professors will be flexible and understand when many are not. After that, it appears they have no answers. However, they are not the only ones without answers.
Another happier common theme among those interviewed as well as the readings is that small amounts of compassion truly do go a long way. Something that has weighed on me heavily while working on this assignment is that I am experiencing a fraction of the challenges other students are taking on while living paycheck to paycheck myself. School has been incredibly daunting for me these last two semesters, so I couldn’t imagine the stress and pressures others are experiencing. Rachael, Ravesh, and I all relate to the fact that we have each had a couple of professors who showed understanding and compassion that made an incredible difference for us. As stated above, universities should take note of the magnitude of problems that university students are grappling with and lead with flexible, compassionate policies. This way, students can prioritize their mental and physical wellbeing while completing their coursework in a way that doesn’t further overwhelm them.