I am not the same student I was just a few weeks ago. But as I have changed, my workload has stayed the same.
“Do you feel consumed with homework right now?” is a question I have been asking many of my friends. All of my peers have responded the same, reporting that their workload has become unmanageable. Many have even said that their professors are increasing the amount of homework due to the time we lost while campus was closed. While each student might be struggling for different reasons, I believe that students are unified in this request: To account for the change happening around and within us during this remote semester, our workload must be lightened.
I truly would like to thank all administrators, faculty and staff for working hard to make a meaningful transition to remote learning, taking action when change is needed, and listening when students ask for help. It is in times like these that I am proud to be a Kenyon student and learn from such incredible professors.
Even though I thoroughly appreciate the effort that professors have put into continuing their curriculum via remote learning, I believe that this is exactly where the problem lies. Students cannot be given the same expectations, the same syllabus or even the same assignments as before. While professors are making changes to transition their coursework, I believe that more needs to be done. Giving an extension is not helpful if a student doesn’t have a quiet workspace. Changing a paper from 10 pages to eight is not valuable if a student is struggling to focus and self-motivate. And modifying a syllabus by pushing everything back one week is not impactful, nor does it acknowledge the change happening around us.
Many of my professors have kindly reached out to my peers and me, asking for feedback on how we believe our courses are going. And I’ll admit, I have not responded to a single message. I know without a doubt that all of my professors would be understanding if I were to reach out and ask for improvements, extensions, whatever it may be, but for many, right now is a difficult time to ask for help. Like many of my peers, I hesitate to share suggestions with professors for fear of coming across as unappreciative or inconsiderate of the changes they too are navigating. So I hope that through this article, I can help encourage other students to reach out and ask professors for help, and urge professors to lighten the load on their students, even if those students don’t reach out and ask them.
I am undoubtedly in an ideal situation at home, and I certainly know that my position is one of privilege. I have my own room with a desk and working Wi-Fi, I do not typically struggle with mental health and I have a supportive family who gives me space when I need it. But right now, I am struggling. Struggling to focus, to be productive and to maintain good mental health while spending my entire day locked away in my room doing homework. If I am feeling this way, I can only imagine how students without those benefits are feeling. Homework is no longer about being a successful learner; it has become about how well you can manage to focus and complete assignments despite the many unique obstacles you have to overcome. That is not what learning, or schoolwork, should be about.
I am very appreciative of Kenyon for taking on a generous new grading system, and I commend the administration and faculty for making a decision that will definitely decrease the stress of its students. But a new grading system does not negate the work that we still must complete.
There’s no doubt that Kenyon students take academics seriously, and it is not an easy task to remove the stress or pressure that goes along with schoolwork. While I can remind myself that grades have become less significant, I cannot simply write a 10-page paper without focus and hard work. Even more so, I would argue that Kenyon has taught me to try and succeed not for a grade, but out of a passion for learning. The new system is undoubtedly wonderful and helpful, but this alone does not take the pressure off of many students.
It’s important to remember that everyone will cope with this situation differently, and, now more than ever, we cannot truly know what others are going through. Some of my fellow students might process best by throwing themselves into their schoolwork, others will need to focus on their mental health and plenty will cope by spending time with their family. What I ask for is not to eliminate homework altogether, but rather to give leeway and help students find a balance, whether that means shortening assignments significantly, teaching only the essential material or creating open-ended projects with flexible timelines. I of course cannot put myself into the shoes of my professors, and I can only imagine how much work has gone into creating these remote classes. But I do hope that a compromise can be reached: one that values the importance of learning and acknowledges that their classroom is now filled with a variety of different students who will think differently, learn differently and, right now, cope differently.
From Gambier to Zoom and back again, I have no doubt that our academic values will remain strong as a Kenyon community, and reducing homework will not change these values. Rather, we can reinforce the notion that, despite the fact that students come from different places, we can come together and learn in a way that respects these backgrounds and acknowledges the struggles we face.
Mia Sherin ’22 is an English major from Wilmette, Ill. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.