Fall brings academic struggles

Denise Barajas

Midterm season is upon us once more and with it it brings a wave of anxiety, mental breakdowns and panic attacks for many students.

Sadly, this is when students who optimistically took on too much at the beginning of the semester start falling through the cracks. This is also around the time professors start getting more visits to their office hours from students pleading for ways to improve their grades.

Needless-to-say, professors are not robots and when students approach them about their struggles they are often faced with the challenge of empathizing with students in distress, while also maintaining the integrity and standards of their courses.

“Students need set standards and so I can’t bring the standards down to students who are struggling because we all have stuff going on, including professors who are not immune to distress,” said part-time faculty member Jennifer McHenry from the geography department. “However, as a mother I understand sometimes students go through some really difficult situations…and if you come to drop a class it’s ok, though I wouldn’t encourage it, I understand sometimes it might be necessary.”

There is a major difference between a) students who have plainly procrastinated their way through the semester and are now trying to make up for it, b) students who have taken on too much and are now letting some things slip through the cracks because of it, and c) students who are seriously emotionally distressed and who have simply checked out.

Part-time faculty member Shannon Hurtz knows the difference between the three and says that is why she handles everything on a case-by-case scenario.

“I try to be really empathetic but in certain situations in which a student’s only issue is that they have taken on too much and everything is falling apart, all I have to say is well, that’s kind of part of the learning process,” said Hurtz. “Even if it is a tough lesson, I won’t go easy on you because it’s a lifelong lesson that goes beyond the classroom…If I were to go too easy on students who have taken on too much I would just be watering down what they are supposed to learn in the semester.”

Tough lesson indeed, but Hurtz touches on a very valid point. When students have taken on too much in a semester, say rushing for a group, taking on excessive amounts of units or work hours despite not needing the pay, it can be difficult to fully empathize with these students. However, what about the students who need the extra work hours or those that are facing some sort of personal adversity that might make it difficult for them to succeed in class?

“I don’t give extensions because I want students to learn. However, when it comes to extraneous variables that students have no control over like needing to work long hours to pay their bills…or if they get in a car accident and their car is totaled and now coming to class is difficult because their neck hurts, that’s totally different and we can try to work with that,” said Hurtz.

As a professor who went through college as a young husband and father, Professor Jim Wanket from the geography department says he personally understands some of the challenges students face and that is why he tries to be proactive about helping struggling students.

“We as professors are bound by the syllabus and that kind of constrains what we can do for students but at the same time we really do want to be empathetic…That’s why I honestly try not to constrain myself too much by creating a syllabus that is too prescriptive,” said Wanket. “There is a certain amount of work that has to be made in order for this course to count as a university class…I can’t change my standards for busy students but I can and do, however, try to be empathetic by accommodating students who have a lot of things going on.”

While some professors might stray away from being accommodating to students out of fear their generosity might be exploited, Wanket says this has never been a problem for him.

“The way I look at it is, there is kind of this set university policy about being accommodating to university athletes and yet their are other students who have other things going on that aren’t related to athletics that don’t have that…and I feel like it is just as important to accommodate those students as well,” said Wanket.

For students who find themselves in the midst of a breakdown these faculty members had some advice to offer;

“[Students should] think about these things ahead of time and to not burden themselves too much…your health is more important than your courses. If taking care of yourself means that you maybe don’t put in as much effort into a course as you would have otherwise, then that’s you prioritizing your health over a class and sometimes that’s what you have to do,” said Wanket. “Students who are getting to the point of breakdowns, there are policies in place to help with that through withdrawal policies that allow for you to drop classes for medical reasons…which may delay your progress to degree but better that than having a really critical emotional breakdown.”

McHenry also pointed out that students in distress should, “keep in contact with your family or if you are going through a hard time reach out to someone you trust or maybe even look into some counseling services.”

If you feel like maybe you are just suffering from the winter blues check out our article on winter depression for tips on how to get over the winter time sadness. However, if you or someone you know may be in serious distress, seek help by visiting one of the counselors at the WELLness center or by talking to a faculty or family member. For students in a major crisis please contact the 24 hour Suicide Prevention Crisis Line via (916) 368-3111.