“There’s nothing normal about what’s happening right now”: Professors and Students Respond to This Semester
This semester is hard. For everyone. I asked students and professors the same question — if you could tell the other group one thing about this semester, what would it be? Below are their responses; hopefully, they make you, whoever you are, feel a little less alone.
Kahlil Greene ’21
I wish professors knew how hard it was to be a Black student recovering from the trauma of the summer and constantly worrying about the outcome of the election — all whilst carrying the burden of being the demographic that turned out the most and put in the most effort to retain some semblance of democracy in our nation.
Daniel HoSang, associate professor of ethnicity, race and migration and American studies
[Students should] give thought and attention to how they can use their skills, trainings and gifts to support those communities and groups who are organizing in the face of the pandemic. Not just in providing service or charity, but in using what means we have to support their efforts to build power and capacity.
Irene Vazquez ’21
I’ve been disappointed to see how little syllabi have changed considering the unprecedented time we’re living in. Though study can be a refuge at times, it feels like there’s a strange desire to deny the outside world when it comes to actually easing up reading and writing assignments.
Luka Gawlinski Silva ’23
I feel like lots of professors saw figuring out how to measure our performance as the big challenge with going virtual, and not instruction. More energy should have been put into finding innovative ways to teach us material than into finding new ways to test us on it.
Charles Hill, Brady-Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy
There’s nothing about this semester that warrants significant change. Do the reading and participate in class.
Nico Taylor ’22
This semester will be memorable, no doubt. But I don’t know if — among the biweekly nasal swabs and code yellows and oranges and the hockey team, etc. — there will be room in what I remember for what I’m learning in your classes. There is a fear that all these hours on Zoom, all this work, will come to naught. Time will tell if this is true, so I don’t know what to ask for. But I hope, at least, that you’ll consider this as the semester concludes — that is, I guess, how to make this knowledge memorable.
Marci Shore, associate professor of history
In some ways, I only now appreciate just how dependent I was on the exchange of energy [in the classroom], on the responsiveness of the students and of my intuition about the mood in the room. Now that I’m lecturing to little boxes on a screen, or to my 8-year-old daughter’s stuffed animals, I feel like I’m speaking into a void. I lose my sense of timing. I have no intuition about when I’m reaching someone and when I’m just inside my own head. The classroom is my space. In German, I would call it “heimisch”: a space where I feel at home, at ease, grounded, in control. Interestingly, I’ve found that this is true for me in all different kinds of classrooms, in different cities and different countries — which makes me think there must be something universal about that classroom space. It’s been very disorienting to lose that.
Sydney Bryant ’23
This burnout is in no way indicative of our passion for these subjects or our dedication as students. We’re giving all the energy that we can muster but because of the lack of support from the administration, students are being spread too thin. I really appreciate professors who have been considerate of these circumstances; it makes a difference.
Jennifer Hirsch, lecturer in psychology
It [isn’t] a sign of weakness or failure to seek support. Attend office hours, utilize Yale tutoring centers, seek accommodations from SAS or dean’s excuses when there are barriers preventing you from fully engaging in your learning experience. I tell my students that if they aren’t taking the best care of their physical and mental self, then they won’t be able to be their best academic self. Learning work/life balance starts now and the “life” part is important!
Saket Malhotra ’23
I wish profs knew how difficult it is to concentrate and keep deadlines when studying from home. I have way more family obligations that I have to prioritize.
James Berger, senior lecturer in English and American studies
This term is strange, unprecedented, difficult, unnatural. I teach small seminars, so we’re able to Zoom pretty effectively. We talk about books, about politics, about pasts and futures. I try to run the class so that we’re able, as well as we can, to form real relationships as the term develops. And I tell them that this weirdness will, ultimately, pass. We will be back in classrooms together as we ought to be. At the same time, public health and the decaying environment are linked, and this will not be the last pandemic of our (certainly of their) lifetimes. We can hope that our society and our schools will be better prepared for the next one. I tell them pretty obvious things: get enough sleep and exercise; talk with friends and family; meditate; do work; take courses that you enjoy. Live with purpose. Be kind.
James Hatch ’23
Thank you. Thank you for being flexible and for being invested in making my experience amazing, despite the new world we live in. It is an exceptionally challenging time and you have made this semester very worthwhile.
Leah Mirakhor, lecturer in ethnicity, race and migration (ER&M) and the Program in American Studies
Imagine and participate in remaking the social order not just within the University, but beyond. Practice refusal and non-cooperation with injustice; build collectively, build community. Have a capacious vision for the world you want to live [in].
Lauren Lee ’23
There’s nothing normal about what’s happening right now and honestly I feel like things have only gotten worse since the spring. You’ve got a pandemic on top of many students staying at home in sometimes really stressful or dangerous situations on top of a wall of unemployment on top of financial insecurity on top of police and state violence, etc. On the individual scale, it just all leads to so many people being in a poor mental and physical state. A lot of academic spaces I’ve been in are just like, we’ll acknowledge that the pandemic is happening, among so so [many] other stressors that are specific to this year and semester, but we’re going to have to keep going. It’s like a messed up form of denial. Endurance is helpful but that’s different from working yourself until you’re hurting yourself.
Adriane Steinacker, senior lecturer in physics
In the current dearth of human interactions and general propensity for gloom, highlighting positive thoughts is more important than ever. This semester, I often heard from students, “Oh, I wish I could have seen those demonstrations in the classroom!” My reply to that: You get to see them unfold in slow motion. Nobody has looked at them this way before. I realized that we spend too much time fast-forwarding and not enough time contemplating slow motion.
Meghanlata Gupta ’21
I am exhausted and overwhelmed right now. I’m doing my best, but it’s hard to keep up with the workload of this semester while prioritizing my health and my family.
David Simon, director of undergraduate studies for political science
As hard as it’s been, this is one of those trials that I hope will make us stronger in the longer run. We will surely appreciate many aspects of our community that we might have been starting to take for granted. In addition, it’s been necessary for faculty to rethink their pedagogy in many ways.
Wren Wolterbeek ’24
This semester has held a lot of challenges between COVID, online learning and the stress of an election as well as personal struggles as I grappled with loss. I am so grateful for the academic and personal support you have given me which has not only helped my writing and analytic skills improve, but has also greatly aided me in a difficult time. I will always remember the feeling of getting a check-in email at a time when I felt isolated.
Mark Oppenheimer, lecturer in English
Finishing an elite college on-campus experience in four years is a historical anomaly; throughout time, most people haven’t had that opportunity, and many have had it interrupted by war, famine, immigration, natural disaster. Many of those people endured, even thrived, in the long run. You will too.
Rachel Merrill ’23
Just because I can connect to a Zoom call doesn’t mean my Wi-Fi can also support my video being on, streaming your screen-shared video/audio/media, downloading documents and navigating to websites — all during the Zoom call! To the profs that have tried their hardest to accommodate all levels of technological access — thank you so, so much. It means a lot.
Daniel Sorial ’24
This school year was the end of a half-year journey that lacked discipline, organization and consistency. I was all out of sorts coming in, and warming up to workloads — Yale workloads — was one of the hardest adjustments of my life. I know most of my work, especially in the beginning, was unsatisfactory by my own standards, so I just want to tell them: my bad. I’ll get ’em next time. I’m learning.
Steven Smith, professor of political science and professor of philosophy
This, too, shall pass.
Madison Hahamy | email@example.com