o-wendlingletter

Dear readers,

The past two years have felt like this constant roller coaster of highs and lows; where one moment can be on an upward trajectory, and the next is a vertical drop into a pit of despair.

Each day it feels like there is something new to worry about, something new I must read, watch, learn or research just to stay informed. COVID-19 continues to impact the world; those of us in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln community are still waiting for answers on the criminal investigation into an alleged sexual assault at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.

It’s just a never ending loop of doom and gloom.

What has UNL done to combat this? Some may argue the university has done a lot, but it just is not enough.

The 2020-21 academic year allowed some flexibility in course attendance, with the UNL Faculty Senate encouraging faculty to use “attendance and engagement” as the basis for course expectations rather than just physical — or virtual — attendance.

Fast forward to this semester, where COVID-19 is still a problem and classes are back to being primarily in person. Rather than encourage explicit flexibility, the Faculty Senate has returned to its April 3, 2018, attendance policy.

At the top is a short preamble explaining the reversed policy change and the line, “faculty are encouraged to not create course policies that incentivize students’ attendance while ill.” 

This semester I had one of those moments where I lost my voice and had a runny nose forcing me to not go anywhere without a tissue just in case. While I got tested for COVID-19 as soon as I could, even the common cold is now combined with this dread and guilt of infecting anyone.

Before COVID-19, any small sickness was no big deal and going to class with a stuffy nose or scratchy throat was just expected. There’s this feeling that missing one class will make you miss out on that vital piece of information that would allow you to actually pass the class, gone in an instant simply because of the sniffles.

If we expand to look at the worsening of mental health and just the nature of overworking ourselves to the point where anything truly feels like the world is ending, it’s more of that vertical decline in a high-speed roller coaster of life.

I’ve met with many mentors on what this means, trying to piece together its impact. To summarize what one mentor told me, it’s hard to assess a situation when you’re in the thick of it, when everything is surrounding you and pulling you deeper into without any hope of escaping.

Since March 12, 2020 — the day it felt like the world flipped on its head as the coronavirus became a reality at UNL — I’ve only allowed myself few breaks, far fewer than I should have given myself.

Sure, summer is meant to be a break, but the news doesn’t stop even while I’m 1,000 miles away from home. Fall break is meant to be a time to relax, but instead I spent the minimalistic two days catching up on the 500-page textbook I’ve neglected for a midterm the same week this letter publishes.

I can’t accept that this has to be the norm, that no matter what I do I’m always going to feel tired and that the next big chapter in my life is plagued by failures that feel like this snowball rolling down a hill, growing and picking up speed until there’s no chance of stopping this spiral.

Last semester, one of my professors offered to give our class an entire week off of classes for wellness days in lieu of our missed spring break. Was I very productive over these excused classes? Absolutely not. But, it was finally a break. 

It was finally a responsibility off the table.

While encouraging faculty to offer flexibility or working with students and taking our mental health into perspective is also a nice gesture, more faculty and staff can take these concrete steps to give us more flexibility.

Faculty can offer more wellness days, allowing time to actually catch up on readers or amend the attendance policy so one absence isn’t going to be the end of the world. Even just one canceled class every now and then would be an improvement, at least to start with, but this also isn’t just one instance or one fix from being better.

If the university can’t give us that flexibility, maybe it’s on us to remove ourselves from the situation and keep doing what we’ve always done. We’re smart, resilient and can figure out what to do ourselves if needed.

And if the answer really is just pulling all nighters and sleeping in the weirdest places, at least that’s not on students. 

No one will stop the roller coaster for us, but maybe, just maybe, taking a break will make it just a little bit easier to handle.

From one exhausted person to another, be kind to yourself.

Zach Wendling is the senior news editor for The Daily Nebraskan. Reach him at zachwendling@dailynebraskan.com.