I don’t think I made myself clear.
Over a month ago, I wrote an op-ed regarding the College’s mental health crisis. I told you to check in with each other because, chances are, not everyone around you is okay. That’s still true. But given the state of the world, the College’s mental health response and the Op-Eds written about this topic, I’m beginning to realize my points may not have come across exactly as I intended. So, let’s clear up three major points.
#1. The College’s mental health crisis existed before COVID-19. The nature of the American college education system (e.g. living alone for the first time, the increase in academic workload, etc.) creates an environment ripe for the onset of many mental health issues. COVID-19 has merely exacerbated this and brought it to the attention of many who were not directly affected by it. This crazy, COVID-19-filled year has created an opportunity to finally reckon with the U.S. higher education system’s failings in mental health support. And it’s an opportunity we must take to sustain our mental wellbeing, both during the pandemic and when it ends.
#2. Checking in on those around you should be a basic human kindness we all give each other—it is not the solution to this crisis. The solution comes from systemic changes to the academic culture at Bowdoin and colleges across the country. And on that note…
#3. To the deans and administration at Bowdoin, I quote Taylor Swift: “Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes.” A weekly email telling us to get more sleep and two days without classes will never solve the systemic mental health problems at Bowdoin. To be frank, “mental health moments” and the troublingly short two-day “spring break” are extremely tone-deaf to the nature of Bowdoin’s academics. It’s not feasible to put screens away an hour before sleep when all of our work is done on them. Many students didn’t get a break during the spring recess because they were catching up on work the entire two days off. Often, students don’t have time to work on healing their soul exhaustion (whatever that means) because they are too busy doing schoolwork. These are band-aids to Bowdoin’s mental health problems, but we’re bleeding out.
So, let me provide five real, attainable, systemic solutions for the College. These are no longer suggestions—they are demands, because Bowdoin students deserve better than the lacking mental health support we currently receive.
First, the counseling center needs more staff and resources. Waiting weeks to see a counselor is not healthy and, for some students, is outright dangerous.
Second, academic expectations must be lowered for the duration of the pandemic. Faculty, staff and students alike are constantly fighting battles that aren’t visible on the surface, especially in a pandemic. Yet all are expected to complete the same workload as before the pandemic with the same standards. Now more than ever, Bowdoin’s “academic rigor” is forcing students to choose between their mental well-being and their academic success. That is not healthy and not okay.
Third, on a similar note, classes must return to credit/no credit grading, at least until the pandemic is over. Students should never be forced to choose between staying mentally well and getting a good grade; credit/no credit removes that horrible dilemma.
Fourth, students need at least another short break in April. We normally receive two weeks off during our 15-week spring semester and one week off (in total) during our 15-week fall semester. This semester, in the middle of a literal pandemic, we have received a measly two days without class. Students need to be given at least a full week off during this semester, which necessitates an April break.
Fifth, reading period must be extended back up to four days. To study for the entirety of our final exams in two days is not feasible for most students and will cause more stress and mental health issues for many. It runs counter to a goal of improved mental health at Bowdoin.
I didn’t make myself clear before, so let me do it now: students should never, EVER, have to choose between their mental well-being and academic success. This choice is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions. Bowdoin students deserve better, and I’ll keep fighting until changes are made. Do I make myself clear?
Lyle Altschul is a member of the Class of 2023.