This is likely the strangest and most unpredictable semester that Meredith students will ever experience. The campus is a ghost town, there are few face-to-face classes and major schedule changes have affected the layout of the semester. Fall break — if it can even be called that — is approaching, but many students are already experiencing burnout.
Burnout is “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress” according to Psychology Today. There are many stressors present in students’ lives, including that the pandemic is not improving and that many students are lacking daily social interactions, exercise, time outdoors and other important activities that are used to cope and stay healthy. Burnout has not only affected students, but also faculty.
Dr. Tina Romanelli, the Director of the Learning Center, stated, “I’ve noticed that I’m kind of brain-fried really early. I’m used to feeling spacey and like I can’t think straight towards the middle of November, but four weeks in...I was already not able to focus or get everything done.” She said that when meeting with her tutors, she found that they echoed her sentiments and are “looking forward to our next post-vaccine semester where we can take a few long weekends to catch up and wind down from the constant bustle of an academic year.” She also commended the Meredith community for adapting to a difficult situation and expressed her gratitude towards those who were tasked with making the scheduling decisions. “The Meredith community worked so hard to get us all to this point in what seemed like an absolutely impossible situation, and we’ve done so well!” She said. “We’re almost halfway through a semester I certainly expected to have to pivot online long before this, so I'm super impressed.”
Of course, I, as well, have to give credit where it is due: Meredith has been better about preventing the spread of COVID-19 than many colleges in the area, and I doubt that making changes to the Fall 2020 calendar was easy. Many colleges had to make big decisions about their calendars for Fall 2020 within a small window of time, so it was nearly impossible to create a perfect plan. There are a lot of factors to consider when making calendar changes, and I am only pointing out some ways in which Meredith could learn from this and be more equipped to deal with similar challenges in the future.
The first part of Meredith’s plan that confused me was the decision to start the semester earlier. Many colleges made this decision, such as UNC and NC State, and that did not end well for them. Although Meredith has been preventing COVID-19 more effectively than other schools that started early, it is not because we started the semester early. It was obvious to myself and many other students that COVID-19 was still too prevalent in August for us to have gone back to campus. Because so many schools decided to start early, we saw COVID-19 cases surge again. It would have made more sense to start when we normally would have, keep the regular short breaks — fall break, the Labor Day holiday, etc. — in the fall and take that time out of winter break so that students would be less likely to travel very far during the holidays. Winter break is over a month long, and students will no doubt travel during that extensive period of time.
It does not make sense to have removed all the breaks that would have been during fall semester, trading those breaks for a longer winter break. Students cannot go months without any time off without adverse effects. I know you are probably thinking, “what about weekends?” Weekends are not breaks; in order to be successful in college, students have to do at least some school work — we are all going to be studying for our final exams that are taking place the following week.
We are having to devote this entire semester to school alone when there are so many other issues going on in the world that we cannot just ignore. There comes a point when compartmentalizing simply does not work anymore. How can we expect students to just dismiss the worries about loved ones being affected by COVID-19 or the daily hurt caused by racism or the intense anxieties surrounding the upcoming elections and put school above all else for over three months? Our one-day fall break, that is on a Tuesday of all days, is not going to give students an adequate amount of time to recover and focus on self-care. Students’ mental health should be considered next time a big scheduling decision is made because this semester, none of us have time to even think about self-care.
By Mia Shelton, Staff Writer