We are in week 5 of the school year and some things at this point go without saying. Emails start with gentle reminders like “in these unprecedented times” or “due to coronavirus” or any other proclamation of solidarity and support. We sign off emails with words like “stay safe” or “stay healthy.” As a collective student body we are stressed, overwhelmed and struggling. Many of us didn’t even think we would still be on campus at this point, and none of us are sure how long our tentative comfort on campus will last. This, if any year, is the year for us to deal kindly with one another.
I, for one, probably have not turned in 60% of my assignments on time, and judging by conversations with my fellow students, I am not alone. This year is taking a toll on our collective mental health in so many ways, and speaking for myself, adding the stress of 17 credits has done little to help.
We are all grieving so much this year. As a nation we have lost over 200,000 lives to a pandemic. We are dealing with trauma as a result and have been given no time to grieve, let alone process this level of death. Many of us or our friends have lost loved ones unexpectedly to coronavirus, and we have been given no space to deal with this because we are bombarded with the ten thousand other stresses this year has offered us. We have lost jobs, we have lost contact with our friends, we haven’t been able to hug our parents.
We have had to learn a new set of rules as society pieces itself back together in front of us, we have had to remember regulations, jargon and safety measures we could never have imagined a year ago. We worry about our safety when we buy groceries. We have missed weddings, births, funerals. We have witnessed hatred and racism come to a head in America and have had to confront ourselves on a whole new level. Some of us have marched in protest and seen brutality and violence in our own hometowns. We are divided on every level, politically, physically, emotionally. And all of this before we even come to class.
Campus is a different place this semester. It lacks the closeness of a university as we all do our best to follow social distancing guidelines, as we hide our faces behind masks every day. Students who look forward to returning to campus as an escape from outside stress have found it here instead, many of them not even unpacking into their dorms as they wait for campus to suddenly close and take the rug out from under them.
We are dealing with so much. Even if you didn’t lose a job or a loved one or a friendship to coronavirus, the strain of an election year, the fear of violence, or the anxiety of living during a global virus are pulling you away from being able to focus on education. When we need support we can’t go to our friends for a hug or have a relaxing evening at our favorite restaurant without wondering if we will be the next infected. The anxiety of our situation affects us all. I know there is pressure to ‘maintain a standard of excellence’ but sometimes we just need to have good mental health.
This is to say, now is the time to be gentle with yourself. Not all of us are good at online learning; not all of us adapt easily to stressful situations. Make space to feel overwhelmed if you need to, give yourself time to think, react and process. We are all struggling, anxious, in need of a hand. Students, be gentle with one another, be loving to yourselves. Professors, our work probably won’t always be turned in on time this year, remember we are stressed and we need more grace than ever. Let this be the year of kindness.