‘We are in a new normal’: Students struggle to make it to the finish line with heavy workloads and high expectations

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Photo: Lizzie Bromley

'We are in a new normal’: Students struggle to make it to the finish line with heavy workloads and high expectations

By Raven Yamamoto


When sophomore Andrea Villegas-Ospina got an email notifying her that she was on academic probation, her mind immediately went to her legal status. 


An international student from Bogota, Colombia, Villegas-Ospina is one of many Lions that have fallen behind in their schoolwork under a myriad of stressors during the pandemic. Between living entirely in her bedroom and an increased workload from professors, Villegas-Ospina struggles to find the motivation to open her laptop everyday and login to Brightspace. 


With finals week now in full-force, she worries about her ability to catch up on her ever-increasing number of assignments.


“I think I am allowed to be lazy if that's what they want to call it, and everyone should be regardless of their situation right now,” she said. “It's not the time to have students be defined by their grades.”


Villegas-Ospina says that even if she were to take a leave of absence or transfer to a different school, she could face deportation because her student visa directly depends on her academic performance at LMU. With international travel restrictions constantly changing due to COVID-19, she could also become unable to go home or later return to the U.S.


“If I take a leave of absence, I can't be in the country,” she said. “There are so many more things at risk; it's not just me taking a leave of absence and leaving my dorm.”


Villegas-Ospina is not the only student struggling to make it to the finish line this fall. Experts report that prolonged virtual learning has had an increasingly negative impact on college students who have faced overwhelming workloads from professors, mental health challenges due to isolation from usual support systems, and difficulty focusing on school amidst home life. After LMU confirmed that Spring 2021 will be mostly online, many students questioned whether or not they can survive another semester of remote learning—let alone get through finals week.


Junior Ti’Lar Jackson has a lot on her plate in the coming days with four final exams, two final projects, and a 6-10 page final essay due by the end of the week. Jackson says her workload from this semester has felt more stressful than it would have if classes were in-person. Combined with how students were given very few days off from school this semester, Jackson says she’s been too busy trying to keep up with deadlines to retain much information from her assignments—many of which weren’t graded until later in the term.


“That’s how I knew there was too much work being assigned—when professors couldn’t even keep up with grading themselves,” Jackson said. 


While Jackson says that things could have been worse homework-wise, she wishes more professors took into consideration how students were being affected by external pressures such as the pandemic, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the presidential election.


“We are in a new normal,” Jackson said. "The semester shouldn’t have been approached as if it were business as usual.”


Sophomore Gabby Kaatz says that the virtual learning landscape has weighed heavily on her mental health, to such an extent that she’s had to drop a class. Kaatz, a film production major, lived alone on-campus for most of the semester. For Kaatz, feelings of loneliness and isolation have made even the smallest assignments feel “enormous.”


While her professors have been mostly accommodating deadline-wise, Kaatz wishes they were more willing to consider the unique circumstances that affect each student's performance. She believes this would immensely benefit students like herself whose living situations hinder their learning.


“We're not on an equal playing field,” she said. “To assume that we're all in the same situation would not be fair.”


ASLMU Speaker of the Senate Kyle Saavedra saw an increase in his personal workload before students like Villegas-Ospina and Jackson began approaching him with similar experiences. Saavedra says ASLMU was approached by multiple students asking them to take action. 


Saavedra notes that when he brought the issue to his professors that most didn’t realize how widespread the sentiment was among students. For Saavedra, professors were very receptive to the feedback. The Speaker says he has also discussed possible solutions with Dr. David Sapp, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, and that ASLMU hopes to communicate with faculty over the break to improve student academic experiences come spring. 


“I think if we bring more awareness for next semester, maybe things will change with their syllabi,” Saavedra said.


In reflecting on her experiences this semester, Jackson says she was often asked how she was doing by her professors at the beginning of class. When she was honest with them about her academic challenges, she was told that it was all “part of life as an adult.” But Jackson doesn’t see it that way. 


“In March, the world stopped for a reason,” she said. “This is our opportunity to communicate, build, and create a better environment for ourselves. If students say the online curriculum is too demanding, now is the time to change it and make it effective for online learning.”


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