Yale Daily News

Yale administrators have recently encouraged faculty to take measures to reduce student stress. While some professors have canceled assignments and extended deadlines, others have continued as scheduled.

On March 26, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley sent an email to all FAS faculty and instructors in Yale College and GSAS detailing concrete measures that they can take to reduce student stress. The deans acknowledged that in response to the “pressures of isolation from the pandemic, recent tragedies and a lack of a spring break,” many students have been “pushed beyond their limits,” the March email read. They also sought to address various faculty members’ questions on how best to acknowledge this time of compounding difficulties for their students.

A second email, sent to FAS faculty and instructors on April 7, was titled “Care and compassion in the final weeks of term” and encouraged faculty to observe the April 8 and April 23 break days, as well as reminding faculty to follow the measures outlined in the March email: allowing students to drop assignments without penalty, relaxing deadlines for all assignments and assessments, allowing students to miss class without penalty and canceling a class session.

“I have found it difficult to feel confident in my attempts to be a compassionate teacher these past weeks, as I watch students struggle with compounding stressors and work as best they can to care for one another and their various communities on and off campus, all while maintaining an eagerness to learn and engage with one another in the classroom,” assistant professor of English Alanna Hickey wrote in an email to the News. “I’ve tried to listen to my students when they are willing to tell me what kind of academic work they want, and are able, to do this semester.”

In the email, the deans emphasized instructors’ ability to allow students to drop assignments or assessments without grade penalty, relax deadlines for assignments and assessments, allow postponements without any grade penalty, allow students to miss class without penalty and cancel a class session.

They stressed, though, that instructors should not change assignment structure categorically such that completed work holds more weight, given that “some students count on being able to demonstrate progress in class.” Furthermore, for undergraduates, permission to extend deadlines after the last day of the reading period — May 13 at 5 p.m. — requires a residential college dean’s approval.

“Generally, I agree that we should cut everybody, students and staff alike, some slack at this time,” French instructor Aaron Kestle GRD ’22 said in an email to the News. “My fellow French 120 instructors and I have recently spoken on the subject. We are generally in agreement that students should be allowed some wiggle room given the circumstances.”

Hickey shared Kestle’s sentiments and said she has worked closely with her students and colleagues to determine what constitutes meaningful work at this time.

“I’ve been very impressed by the way that faculty have responded,” Mahesh Agarwal ’24 said. “I think they’ve done as much as they can, at least in [Directed Studies]. For example, there was a book we were supposed to read in DS — Madame Bovary — and because it specifically dealt with the topic of suicide, it was taken off. [For the most] recent paper, they extended the deadline.”

Agarwal also noted the wide range of responses across the University. For example, he observed that his urban studies class — “Globalization Space” — did not acknowledge recent events at all.

But he emphasized that he did not see this as negligence, citing the lower proportion of first years in the class.

 “I think it’s less important to me that every professor needs to have the same level of reaction,” Agarwal said. “And more as long as people feel like they’re supported.”

Tiffany Fang ’24, who is studying off campus this year, said that some of her professors took time out of academic discussions to allow students to connect more, and also opened office hours for mental health chats.

Despite being pleased with many of the adjustments professors have made in such a short amount of time, Danielle Doss ’24 said that much of the stress students have felt in past weeks could have likely been alleviated with a break longer than a day.

She emphasized that it is important to have moments to step back from everything. She also added that many end up doing work on break days and that the days are often only break days “in name.”

Kestle shared Doss’ sentiments about the exhausting nature of recent weeks.

“At this time, as I struggle towards a degree and I am overwhelmed by the many personal and professional responsibilities that I must assume, I can only say that it takes a great deal of effort to remain positive about the future,” Kestle said.

The Yale College semester ends May 19.

Zach Morris | zach.morris@yale.edu

ZACH MORRIS
Zach Morris covers international student affairs and notable situations of Yalies acting in foreign countries. He is a first-year in Branford College interested in pursuing an English major.