Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.
If I had to describe my attitude about last semester with a single word, that word would be enduring. Words like learning, connecting, engaging and growing don’t define the fall 2020 semester for me nor did they define the end of my spring 2020 semester. Overall, I’m just exhausted.
At the end of last semester I got a lot of messages from professors along the lines of “this has been a tough year, but we’re almost there, just push through these last two weeks!” But after pushing through last year ー through hurricanes, protests, wildfires and a chaotic election all in the haze of an ongoing pandemic ー I can’t help but read these messages as hollow.
Perhaps others at Colorado State University feel the same. After all, we just pushed through nine months of turmoil of all varieties alongside coursework delivered in frustratingly unfamiliar formats, all while trying to limit our social interactions with friends and family.
I feel like our collective psyche has had the wind knocked out of it. 2020 has made it obvious that modern life is deeply flawed and that hard work in the future is needed to fix these flaws. Considering this, students have earned a right to exhaustion and disillusionment.
Now, I’m not talking about a free pass to give up on everything. Though it might be far too easy to lose sight of any hope or purpose right now, we can see more clearly than ever that our country needs good citizens who, at the very least, are informed and engaged. What this ultimately looks like is wisely considering information and voting on all levels when the time comes.
But students should not feel guilty or ashamed if even this felt difficult in the midst of this semester’s demands. Although our education is an immense privilege, the structure and operation of it can sometimes feel disconnected from reality. This misalignment between our academic energies and the energy we need to be constructive citizens can quickly make us ask, “What’s the point?”
For instance, this semester I was enrolled in a course about medieval European literature that was extremely reading-intensive and required regular discussion board participation. My own academic interests and future goals have nothing to do with medieval literature, but the University’s requirements meant that I needed to take the course to graduate.
This arrangement culminated in a semester’s worth of powering through assignments that were literally centuries removed from my own ambitions. Even in a normal year this would’ve drained my academic motivation, but the combined tangible anxieties of a pandemic, climate crises and a high-stakes presidential election made my participation feel more like endurance training than genuine learning.
What are supposed to be some of the best times of our lives have instead been defined by the anxiety that even a simple rendezvous with a friend could have deadly consequences.”
This was just one example, and I doubt that I was the only student who felt this way. The last semester taught me that so much of the education I am paying for does not translate into the kind of knowledge and skills required of a critically engaged and involved citizen. The hybrid course delivery, while a necessary adaptation to the circumstances, produced more unnecessary stress and anxiety for me than it facilitated thoughtful conversations and meaningful connections.
Before anyone says it, I know this is no one’s fault. I understand that even our professors struggled with this. But the fact of the matter is that we’ve permanently lost something important this year. What are supposed to be some of the best times of our lives have instead been defined by the anxiety that even a simple rendezvous with a friend could have deadly consequences. I’m sure we all remember President Joyce McConnell’s “Call to Action” email earlier this semester reminding us that we “may be the reason someone loses their life.”
I know I cannot be the only one who feels that this life-or-death burden on top of a mostly business-as-usual course workload delivered in an unfamiliar format was fundamentally unfair. Am I the only one who has read CSU’s rhetoric of “continuing” and pushing forward as to an extent, ignorant?
But after all, what choice did the University have? Without our tuition (which supplies a large fraction of the school’s total revenue), CSU may not have been able to support those who depend upon it for income and housing. But it’s precisely this trap, this systemic need to keep our institutions running despite any circumstance, that has left me utterly exhausted.
It seems like we’re internalizing Rocky Balboa’s advice that life is “about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” There’s no room in that advice for considering one’s circumstances, taking a step back and understanding what it is that keeps throwing punches in the first place. Maybe if society stopped plowing blindly forward, we could avoid future scenarios like this.
Students have a right to be unhappy right now. Everyone is trying their best, but that doesn’t negate our loss. It doesn’t change the fact that our college experience has been stolen by forces beyond anyone’s control. There are certainly lessons to be learned and work to be done once the pandemic is under control, but for now, we have earned the time and space for whatever we need to do to recollect ourselves.
Cody Cooke can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CodyCooke17.