OPINION | Revised academic calendar jeopardizes student health

Hannah Levitan, Contributing Columnist

(Will Embree)

Due to COVID-19 shutdowns, pandemic accommodations and a hurricane evacuation, Tulane University students have not experienced a normal college semester in the past two years. While the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions fosters a smoother transition into normal life, students still have yet to enjoy regularly-scheduled breaks

Providing extra days off for students may be unfeasible, but administration and faculty alike should focus on bringing more awareness to the mental and physical exhaustion students face as a result of having school for two months straight. 

Hurricane Ida evacuation lasted roughly a month and eliminated any potential for a normal semester, pushing back exams and forcing faculty to restructure class schedules. Midterm grades are typically due early to mid-October, but this scheme was not feasible for a student body that returned to campus on Sept. 27 after missing four weeks of in-person class.

Due to the shifts in the academic calendar, professors may have canceled midterms or replaced them with similar assessments that took place sporadically. This adjusted schedule created a month-long academic overhaul, in which students have had little time to decompress.

Numerous factors contributed to a vicious cocktail that caused students to report being sick for weeks. Among these include a total lack of academic breaks, increased stress, less sleep, more partying and fewer masks to prevent more common illnesses. When students are under these kinds of pressures, it is nearly impossible to overcome sickness and significantly more difficult to study efficiently

For the students diagnosed with bronchitis, sinus infections and other common illnesses, mental health was likely less of a priority as Tulanians struggled to find available doctors and resorted to hours of waiting at urgent care. 

“With two months straight of school and no break, I became mentally and emotionally exhausted by the end of October,” sophomore Ella Nyquist said. “I lacked motivation academically and socially, and I was incredibly burnt out by the middle of November.”

Given the ample amount of support systems Tulane offers, it is confusing that so many students have long reported unsatisfactory experiences and experienced poor communication with a short-staffed counseling center. Senior Devyn Monahan recounts her experience with Counseling and Psychiatric Services following the death of a close friend in spring 2019: 

“I knew I needed to talk to a professional, though, so I made an emergency appointment with CAPS. I sat in their waiting area, hysterically crying as I filled out the forms, and then was relieved to finally be escorted into a room with a counselor. He seemed kind and knowledgeable as he listened to me recount the tragedy once again. He asked me one question – ‘How are you handling this?’ I told him the various ways I was trying to cope.”

At the end of this meeting, the counselor offered to connect Monahan to Case Management and Victim Support Services and escorted her out of the room. However, no one asked Monahan any further questions, and she reports that no one from CAPS ever followed up with her. 

“I had a decent experience with case management but felt let down by CAPS,” she said. “I felt like I must have been grieving wrong, or over dramatic, or somehow beyond professional help. I now know that that wasn’t the case. Tulane’s counseling system had failed me; I hadn’t failed myself. I sought help and was told it wasn’t necessary.” 

Many institutions, including Tulane, often promote “mental health weeks,” intended to destigmatize and bring awareness to mental illnesses through de-stressing exercises, free food and other activities

If institutions’ actions fail to align with the mental health awareness they preach, they can harm students both mentally and physically. Forcing constant work creates constant stress that cannot be solved by the inadequate availability of counseling and health provider appointments.

While this past semester presented Tulane with several unpredictable obstacles, students should have had easier access to the support Tulane so proudly boasts. A school that claims to have such high-quality health promotion services should consider acting in accordance with its values by increasing their Counseling Center and Campus Health staff, especially when the school devises an academic scheme that is likely to cause students to be overwhelmed.  

If students must persevere through a semester with an insufficient amount of breaks, the least Tulane can do is live up to its top-tier university expectations and listen to the requests of the student body.