Halloween is the best time to be a student: everything on campus gets decked out in spooky vibes, the whole month is an excuse to watch scary movies with your friends (COVID safe of course), even if you don’t normally have much time to sit down for a film, the changing leaves make for a relaxing environment for studying and planning college costumes is the one time a year you can be applauded for being cheap and creative. Halloweekend is one of the biggest times of the year for blowing off steam and relaxing, and sure, that might be motivated by simply having an excuse to get together for a few days and have a good time, but there is a deeper, much more sinister reason for the annual Halloweekend blowout: crunch.
It is no surprise that college students are among the most stressed populations in the United States. We are being trained to be workaholics before we even step foot into the workforce. But, what people don’t realize is that universities themselves enter into a massive crunch period starting with midterm exams that lasts until the semester ends. The stress for students peaks during the exam period, but from then on, the stress and anxiety level does not decline linearly, and that is because the university structure and those that operate it, similar to the miasmic and mysterious villain of your favorite horror movie, are always looming over students, but infrequently break their tension.
Cutting the Halloween metaphor, what we mean is that universities like La Salle simply do not have enough mental bandwidth to go around, and the midterm crunch pits all students in an uphill battle for time and attention that the faculty, staff and administration simply cannot provide.
Professors and instructors, the lifeblood of the university and students’ main way on interfacing with La Salle, are placed far behind the starting line of the second half of the semester as a result of the extra grading they have to do and the constant requests by students at this stage to check in, reconsider grades, offer extra credit or provide support external to the course after students get a look at their midterm grades. Beyond this, many courses at La Salle are bottom-heavy, meaning projects and major final preparations will begin in mid-October, increasing the number of emails, meetings and files coming in and out that professors have to deal with.
For organizations and clubs, October signals the beginning of fundraising and event season which, admittedly, is being dampened by the pandemic, but the sentiment still stands. Every student organization has about three to four outlets for communication with the university, many of which are already overworked and are understaffed. Whether it be discussing budgets, which still haven’t gone out to some clubs like the Collegian, upcoming events like the Masque’s annual performance or major fundraisers like Explorathon, communication with the powers that be at La Salle slow to a crawl. If these people who are our main sources of communication with La Salle will not respond to our emails because they have too many obligations put on them by the administration, student organizations are suffering and students are missing out on the much-needed relief these events can provide.
Finally, perhaps the most pressing and frightening effect of this situation is the impossibility of contacting the many offices of La Salle that are vital for our on-campus or financial endeavors. For many students, the lack of staffing in these offices equates to a direct trade-off of grades and comfortable living, a choice which every university should strive to avoid placing on their students at all costs. For the sake of explanation here is an example fully grounded in the reality of several of our staff members:
There are 24 hours in a day. On a day when a student has three classes, that’s nearly four hours of class time, around two hours of work, and between one and two hours of reading. Assuming that the student should strive for the CDC recommended seven hours of sleep and 1.5 hours of mealtime per day, that leaves seven hours a day for free time, chores and actually being social. That’s all well and good, and while plenty of people will say that this is more than enough time to squeeze in a trip to the parking office, financial aid office or counseling center, it isn’t when those offices have strict schedules and the workload is magnified. Toward the second half of the semester, fall break and Thanksgiving break notwithstanding, that amount of free time is reduced to nearly five hours or less per day, and that’s assuming the student is still getting enough sleep, which is unlikely. These are not unsubstantiated numbers, these are based on real schedules.
After factoring in time sinks like clubs, office meetings with professors, time to commute to and from campus and other such factors, as well as understanding that some of these hours will take place after campus services have already closed for the evening, asynchronous communication with these services becomes the best — and only — option. As so many students could attest, especially toward this time of the semester, emails become a lifeline, and emails are not returned. Again, this situation is not a result of the workers of campus services ignoring students, but there is not enough staff to handle all of the needs of the students, especially after the pandemic era dwindled the staff overall.
While it is true that stress inspires motivation, it is also directly tied to burnout. We do not take a “students first” approach to this problem, and acknowledge that this stress epidemic affects us all: students, professors, staff, advisors and all of us that keep this academic wonder rolling.
Some say never to highlight a problem without providing a solid solution, and while it would be simple for us to say the solution to releasing this bottleneck would be to hire more workers, we also understand that that is completely unreasonable and vague for a university of our size. However, we are expressing this concern to the university population in an effort to help people take a step back and realize that this crunch we are experiencing is not unique to any one person in particular, and it is not something to blame an office worker for; it is something we all need to acknowledge as a reality, and simply work through as a side effect of the university structure.
Perhaps this situation is a symptom of an error at La Salle, likely, it is a symptom of expectations put on colleges by Americans and perhaps it is something far too ingrained to change, but just like any problem we find paramount, hundreds have dealt with the same in the past and came out successful on the other side. So keep your head up this Halloween, continue to practice self-care and try not to get spooked by all that is stacked against you.
–The Editorial Board