I am writing this email in response to the update email received from Kim Fenwick, St. Thomas University’s vice-president academic and research, on March 26 regarding student requirements. Intentional or not, for me and other students I talked to, this email read in a very condescending and shame-inducing way for students who are struggling. What you sent did not make me feel understood.
You said in the email that you know it is “challenging to work independently from home without the structure that the classroom, lectures, and in-class discussions provide.” However, your email is missing many other structural problems and challenges most of us are facing. Absent from the list of challenges many of us are facing is the lack of adequate mental health support, lack of access to safe and accessible workspaces, access to financial aid and monetary compensation, lack of child-care and the removal of the prospects of any sort of summer job; which for the majority of students, has the potential to delay our education by an entire year.
Your reminder to students that our roles as a student is still required is redundant, as we are students because we want to be, and are trying our best in extremely difficult situations. Your email also assumes we are home. Many of us are unable to go home, are struggling with isolation from anyone, and do not have the support of our families at this time. Others who have been forced to return home, are now having to contribute to new duties of childcare within families, and abusive structures where internet access can be regularly revoked, or simply taken away.
The structure of the classroom, lectures and in-class discussions always provide for the most enriched learning experience, however this is not all that students have lost in the past few weeks. For students who already were struggling with mental health disorders, learning disabilities and physical disabilities, your email can be interpreted as anxiety-inducing. Many students are struggling to meet deadlines, and our education intuitions understanding of this matter is of the utmost importance.
We know we are required to complete the readings, assignments and projects assigned to us by our professors, however due to many of the above problems and challenges students are facing, as well as an unquantifiable amount of other complications, threatening students to meet deadlines with fear of receiving poor grades or failing marks due to deadline complications, is only going to worsen the mental health of all students.
Professors have been very understanding and offering flexibility for students dealing with complex circumstances, but right now all students are dealing with complex circumstances.
Finally, the University of Saskatchewan has a very thorough guide on how people with disabilities can be better accommodated right now, and I think the administration at STU can benefit from reading this.
The student body is trying our best, so please do not make us more anxious about asking for deadline extensions or help.
Note: Vice-president academic and research Kim Fenwick sent another email update on March 27 stating the March 26 email was “not to minimize those pressures but to encourage [students] to focus attention on your studies as best you can at this time.” The full email can be read in your student email.