Editor’s Note: This article contains mentions of depression and suicide and may be disturbing for some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
For many students, the college experience has been a stressful juggle of class duties, job opportunities and social life. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an even larger toll on students’ mental health, with students highlighting NC State’s condensed semester as particularly stressful.
Adonis Belton, a third-year studying industrial engineering, said the switch from in-person to online classes during the beginning of the semester amplified student stress.
“The condensed schedule was a big surprise that I think nobody was ready for,” Belton said. “When everyone had to move out and everyone had to get their own things and had to get comfortable with the new schedule, we never got a chance to do things with, like, everyone’s mental state.”
According to Belton, the lack of breaks and the switch to online classes during the condensed semester greatly affected his schedule and grades. Belton, the vice president of Phi Beta Sigma and a member of the Engineering Ambassadors program, had to change his schedule in order to keep up with courses, and even then, he said he still felt professors were continuing to increase schoolwork throughout the semester.
“Professors are like ‘More work means that we’re getting more studying and more done,’” Belton said. “But that’s not the case, of course, which is also why you can see a drop in grades like that.”
Kayla Faulk, a fifth-year studying criminology and biological sciences, said she spent the semester juggling schoolwork, an internship and a dog-sitting job. She said she felt like professors were not prepared to adapt a full semester into a condensed schedule.
“Towards the middle of the semester, at least one of my teachers said ‘OK, I’m gonna completely do away with something, with an assignment,’” Faulk said. “But for the most part, it feels like expectations were remaining the same until teachers started to realize there was an issue.”
Throughout the semester, Faulk said she was experiencing issues with her mental health, with the condensed semester giving her no time to destress. According to Faulk, as she watched her roommates and family members also constantly stress, she started avoiding schoolwork due to her decreased mental health, and it wasn’t until recently that she started feeling better.
“I had a really good conversation with one of my friends, and I just vented, and I was just like ‘This is stupid! Everything is stupid!’, and then I started kind of, like, picking back up,” Faulk said. “I’m in a really good spot right now; well, a lot better than I thought I would be.”
Amir Lawrence, a fourth-year studying computer science, said his mental health deteriorated to a point that was debilitating.
“I got to the point where I was contemplating suicide, and it was very much to the extent of like imposter syndrome, depression, anxiety,” Lawrence said. “And it just all culminates with, like, the semester, the coursework and, of course, being in America in a predominantly white region.”
Lawrence said, with a high-intensity, project-heavy major like computer science, he had no time to rest or relax throughout the semester. According to Lawrence, he felt many professors were optimistic about the semester remaining in person and did not do enough to adapt classes online.
“You have professors who are very headstrong in ‘I have to go through my syllabus! I have to hit these due dates!’” Lawrence said. “So, it really just feels like there’s a big disconnect between what the instructors are understanding, what it’s like and how they’re treating their courses.”
Michael Lewis, a fourth-year studying political studies and Arabic, said coursework felt crammed in throughout the semester.
“I kind of felt like, at the beginning of the semester, a lot of the classes' syllabi weren’t really adjusted for the short amount of time that we were in,” Lewis said. “They kept a regular semester’s load of coursework and packed it into the time that they had.”
Lewis said, even if many of his professors made coursework cuts throughout the semester, it showed that professors were not ready to adapt to the sudden shift to a condensed, all-online semester. According to Lewis, balancing living at home with schoolwork and his duties at the African American Cultural Center often felt stressful.
“For people that I’ve talked to who are at NC State, it’s also the same,” Lewis said. “It’s trying to duck and dodge, you know, getting sick and trying to stay as healthy as they can, and then maintaining grades, GPA or their standards for classwork and grades.”
Nicholas Williams, a third-year studying political science, said while he didn’t feel like the workload had increased this semester, the condensed semester added on to student stress.
“It's felt like it has increased just because there’s been no breaks at all,” Williams said. “So it’s kind of been all running together, and it’s felt like more work than past semesters.”
According to Williams, while being a full-time student with a part-time job at the Career Development Center did not allow for much free time, he saw a few positives in the condensed semester, such as the longer break at the end of finals. Williams said while his grades were not declining this semester, he felt like the university administration’s response to COVID-19 was lackluster.
“I feel like, this semester, there were some good policies in place but did not see a lot of enforcement, which I think definitely contributed to the outbreaks,” Williams said. “I think, from the student side, people just need to make more responsible choices.”
Amber Ellis, a fourth-year student in communication, said while her academic life was not suffering under the condensed semester, many students were not experiencing the same thing.
“I think, ultimately, college students can adjust to a lot, but it’s important to remember that there is a breaking point for everybody,” Ellis said. “So I think, while I’ve been able to handle it, I don’t think that it’s a win by any means, and an extended semester would’ve done most people some good.”
According to Ellis, despite dropping a class after the switch to all-online delivery and keeping her extracurricular activities minimal, the workload for the condensed semester felt increased due to the barriers of communication between professors and students, making studying more rigorous.
With NC State adding mental health days for the upcoming spring semester, Ellis said while she understood the University was equally as stressed as students, more could be done to ensure student wellness.
“At the very least, make the mental health days a little more consistent,” Ellis said. “At least give us a week’s worth of days if you’re taking away spring break, and then maybe just have them every Monday or something, since I know some people aren’t too happy that they’re scattered.”