To University leadership,

“As representatives of the campus community, [the Student and Faculty Senates] encourage faculty to remain cognizant of the academic stresses and mental health of our students… The Student Senate asks faculty to consider implementing relief options such as flexible deadlines, less homework, and giving mental health days in lieu of class sessions as we finish the semester.”

Emails such as this one sent by the Student and Faculty Senates on April 2, 2021, have been a staple this semester. Students and faculty alike have asked university leadership for relief many times, yet it seems like this is all they are willing to give: words of encouragement.

This semester, I have personally had to ask for many extensions and aid from my professors to keep my grades up while maintaining my mental health. Many, if not all, of these requests were granted without a second thought from my professors. Before leaders began sending these emails out, professors were already cognizant of the struggles students were experiencing, because they were experiencing it themselves, as we covered in “University faculty more stressed and depressed due to pandemic, study shows” on Feb. 11.

I am lucky enough to know many of my professors on a personal level. In this past year, every professor who I have talked to about an excess of work, brutal hours and the other obstacles I have faced, has said they have been similarly burdened.

Professors have been expected to continue their usual work and research while learning how to use Zoom, how to support students online and how to work under completely new conditions. While it is occasionally taxing to work with professors who are still learning the ropes after a year of being online, I realize and appreciate that they are doing everything to make the best out of a bad situation.

On the other hand, I have not felt this same commitment from University leaders. I believe that they have faced similar challenges to all others at the University this year, but I have not been supported by leadership.

There have been many calls from students asking for help, but they have been largely ignored. I understand the University’s hesitation to have a Spring Break this year, as it likely would have led to a spike in COVID-19 cases with students traveling to different places. It has been the other proposals that have been ignored that have been the problem for me.

The Student Senate proposed many solutions to the widespread stress on and off-campus, including giving students mental health days, having a three-day weekend and holding a Spirit Week. Only the Spirit Week was ever instated. I appreciate a Rhody-themed week of events as much as the next student, but I wish the other solutions had been implemented by the Faculty Senate and other leaders as well. 

Many feasible programs could have been put in place that would have instantly reduced student stress, including the aforementioned mental health days or extra days off on the weekend. Receiving emails such as the one above feels like a slap in the face to me, other students and the faculty members who have already been there for students.

It is vital that professors understand their students’ stress and mental health needs, but individual acts of kindness will never be as effective as institution-wide solutions. The University has moved in the wrong direction over the past three semesters, cutting off programs that could give students the vital aid they need.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the University swiftly enacted a pass-fail option for every class. This gave students an assurance that their GPAs would not be tanked by an unforeseen, worldwide change. While it was only a band-aid for the wider problems (i.e. a lack of understanding about technology, learning a new mode of communication and a lack of student motivation), it was a sturdy band-aid that helped students recover.

The Student Senate has pushed to have this policy reinstated last semester and this semester, but these proposals have not been passed through the Faculty Senate. Student senators have been champions for all other students during the pandemic and have worked hard to advocate for students, but it seems like the same commitment has not been echoed by the Faculty Senate.

As mentioned above, the Student Senate recommended many policies to the Faculty Senate that would have worked to ease students’ stress, but only a Spirit Week was enacted, which was completely coordinated by the Student Senate. While this is helpful, more is needed to be done than just calls for compassion. Words and resources are nice, but policy is the only way to truly support faculty and students.

This lack of programs and policies has made it seem that we are meant to operate as we would during a normal year at URI when we are clearly not in a normal year.

While I do not believe that leaders at the University have purposely shucked their duty to the same students who pay their salaries, leadership must do better in the future. Hire more administrators to support departments that are currently overworked and understaffed, ensure that students are guaranteed necessities for mental health in University policies and simply listen to what the larger community is asking for.

-Jason Phillips, News Editor