OPINION | Tulane needs to do more to protect students’ mental health

Gabi Liebeler, Contributing Writer

It has been an anxiety-inducing semester, to say the least. Over the past few months, students have dealt with unprecedented stressors as they have navigated a pandemic, a new hybrid learning format and a changed social atmosphere at Tulane University.   

In the absence of these factors, college would still be a stress-inducing place, just like any other academic institution; however, with more to do and less time and wherewithal to do it, students’ mental health is wavering. 

Multiple studies show that college students’ mental health has significantly declined as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Be it anxiety, disappointment, isolation, financial setback or relocation, the pandemic has had catastrophic effects on psychological well-being.  Further, rapidly changing schedules, lack of academic breaks and the intrusion of online school trespassing all hours of the day make it much more difficult for students to deal with the myriad of issues on their plates.  

This past semester, Tulane decided not to provide their students with the regularly observed fall break following midterms. Typically, fall break in mid-October gives students a well-deserved opportunity to relax and recharge after a period of intense academic stress. This year, students returned to normal classes immediately following midterms, trudging onwards through academic monotony and an additional round of exams, towards the Thanksgiving break finish line.  

As Hurricane Zeta struck New Orleans in late October, 80% of New Orleans residents lost power, and Tulane cancelled classes for two days. Their solution to make up for lost time?  Two designated weekend make-up days which forced some students to suffer a twelve-day work week.  

A destructive natural disaster should not be an excuse to pile work onto already overwhelmed college students. Given that 10% of Tulane undergraduate students are from Louisiana, many of these students were likely preoccupied with the safety of their loved ones and did not have the option to completely prioritize their schoolwork.

Additionally, Tulane faculty should not be pressured to hold classes or organize asynchronous assignments on weekends. Just as important as the mental health of the student body is the mental health and safety of Tulane’s faculty and staff. Remote and asynchronous learning not only overrides student life but also allocates more work to professors. A few days of lost academic learning should never take precedence over personal health.  

As we look onward to the spring semester, it seems safe to say that the pandemic will get worse before it gets better.  Many of the struggles faced by college communities concerning physical and mental well-being are far from over.  

It appears that Tulane has yet to fully comprehend that academic breaks are both necessary and important for students, as Tulane chose to not observe a spring break, instead scattering three free days throughout the semester.  

This resolution is not sufficient. Facing a four-month semester with few restorative breaks offered, students need time off.  Data shows that mental health and academic success go hand in hand.  If Tulane hopes to preserve a high-achieving student body, the school must make more concrete efforts to provide students the proper time and resources to manage their current atypical challenges and those to come.