Between the botched campus reopening, the dwindling mental health and the incoming layoffs, I think almost everyone would agree that this semester has been nothing short of grueling. We sat through an online semester that seemed like an eternal punishment in the backdrop of what has perhaps been the most politically charged election we’ve lived through. Yet, despite all of that, the semester is almost over, and many of us are ready for a long-deserved break.
However, with the spring semester calendar and protectional guidelines already announced, it has never been more important for students, staff and faculty to continue being critical of the administrative response. If we don’t want a repeat of the mess that was the 2020 fall semester, then we need to be relentless in our demands, and our demands need to be met.
I am not alone in feeling that many administrative decisions have felt performative and barebones at best, as many of my peers have felt disenfranchised from what has been a cold, frigid semester. It is therefore imperative that administration offers transparent, continuous and open dialogue between students, faculty and staff. Student opinions should be selected and addressed openly, not cherry-picked for maximized administrative comfort.
Furthermore, there needs to be more concrete policies for students, staff and faculty to be able to destress in the upcoming semester. While a COVID-19 vaccine is now visible on the horizon, it does not signal a complete return to normal. This means that we are still going to deal with the debilitating effects of social isolation as we try our best to remain healthy, which means we need more than four wellness days to accomodate for our needs.
It is important for NC State to also establish newer, less draining syllabus guidelines for professors to implement. Both students and professors have reported high levels of stress this semester, and a lot of this stress can be pointed towards the adherence to academic curriculums that, let’s be honest, were not meant for online education or a global pandemic. We are not asking for free credit points, but instead, during this extended winter break, we ask that you look for ways to make online work less monotonous.
With many students already expressing their concerns over the wellness days, NC State needs to make it clear that wellness days are not going to be violated by administration or faculty. I’ll bite: I don’t feel confident that four wellness days will alleviate the overall student stress, especially if our syllabus guidelines are not going to change and professors feel pressured to meet outdated course requirements.
If we are going to return to in-person instruction in the spring, then administration also needs to trust its student body more. There needs to be more health and economic protections for students, staff and faculty beyond the occasional plexiglass screen covering up part of a classroom. While NC State has committed to stricter enforcement of the COVID-19 guidelines, I find it incredulous that we have still not implemented either contact tracing or weekly student body testing. While the addition of mandated testing before spring semester is a great decision, the university also needs to create more concrete plans to continue tracing and containing virus clusters on campus.
This semester has also highlighted the need for administration to fully commit to combatting bias and discrimination within the University. While the recent steps towards racial equity education and accessible housing have been steps in the right direction, the University can still do more to ensure that disenfranchised voices continue to be uplifted within NC State. Marginalized community groups within the University still need support and promotion, and cases of discrimination and violence need to be fully addressed.
The University also needs to provide increased protections for workers, who have already cited mismanagement throughout this semester. Every semester, the University has had issues with various student worker groups, and it is about time changes are made to ensure their economic and physical wellness.
With perhaps one of the longest winter breaks the University has faced in recent history, there is a lot of work to be done. Despite that, I’m hopeful that next semester might be better. Fairer. More equitable and sustainable, even. Even if it ends up being another flop era, I’ll know that our student body has become increasingly uncomplacent against injustice.
And I’d really like to emphasize that, despite all of the disappointment we put up with this year, we were also quick to fight back and address. Not to end on a mushy, emotional note, but I’m proud of the Wolfpack community. We deserve this break, and we deserve to demand for better. There is no situation or power structure that is unchangeable, and as the iconic Stereolab sung in “Wow and Flutter”: “It's not eternal, imperishable / Oh yes, it will go…”