Pre-pandemic, students and professors could chat before and after classes, discussing homework, internship applications, or even just the previous night’s sports scores. The odds were good they might run into each other in a campus hallway or the cafeteria. Not any longer.
But in the last year, students and faculty have also found new ways to develop the bonds that are a hallmark of the college experience. And they’re cutting each other a lot of slack. Sophie Hurwitz, a senior history major at Wellesley, appreciates that one of her professors starts each class by checking in with students. “About a week ago she asked us to name our emotional state in one word,” Hurwitz says. “Half of us said ‘exhausted.’”
One of the ways professors have responded to all that student exhaustion is by extending coursework deadlines. “My policy this year is a no-questions-asked extension on any assignment, as much time as you need, as long as I can be helpful to you and we can help you get the work done for the course,” says Josh Lambert, associate professor of Jewish studies and English at Wellesley. “The students at Wellesley are excited about doing this work. . . . They’re absolutely in it, but some weeks are not good weeks for all.”
Desmond McCarthy, an English professor and adviser for The Gatepost student newspaper at Framingham State University, has created an open-door environment for his students. “I’ve decided that I’m going to be as available as possible,” McCarthy says. Sometimes his students text to say they’re having a bad day, and he texts or calls back. “I’ve just done everything I can to let every student that I come in contact with know that they’ve got somebody who has their back and they can talk to,” he says.
It isn’t only students experiencing burnout, says Sarah Rine, director of student activities and leadership at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “The faculty are at home with their families and are struggling through the same thing that students are,” she says. She sees plenty of evidence that students and faculty are finding ways to support each other. “It really became a collaborative effort with administration, faculty, and students coming together.”
And through it all, Ashley Wall, soon to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English at Framingham State, appreciates the new perspective she’s gained. “I’m thankful that the pandemic has made us have more time to connect with others and really take a step back and think about how we want to spend our time,” she says. It’s made her reflect on “the impact we’re making on others and the impact our professors are making on us as students.”
This story is part of a special report was produced in collaboration with an Emerson College writing and publishing course led by assistant professor Susanne Althoff, a former editor of the Globe Magazine. Bree Figueroa is pursuing a master’s degree. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org