Why are so many students leaving?

Madison Sellers
Executive Staff

It’s not a stretch to say that every student on campus probably knows at least two or three peers who have gone home sometime over the last few weeks. I mean someone who has either moved to remote learning according to University policy, whether that be at home or somewhere more exciting, or someone who has secretly left the Domain for a few nights to escape the pressure of life on campus right now. As someone who’s writing this from home, I understand the feeling.

The fact that so many students feel the need to leave reveals that there’s a serious problem: we’re burnt out, we need a break, and many of us simply do not care about protecting the Bubble anymore. We are just tired. 

The combination of zero days off from schoolwork, the temporary but consequential inability to gather in groups as a community, overbearing action and miscommunication from the administration, and the general lasting effects of the pandemic has created an intense feeling of fatigue across the student body. The incident at the lacrosse game is still under investigation, meaning the students who yelled the racist slurs have yet to be punished, leaving many students of color remaining on-campus feeling unsafe. This semester has been incredibly difficult, and the fact that we’re expected to perform at a normal academic and social level under these circumstances has left many students feeling trapped and overwhelmed. Going home feels like the only option for some of us. 

In a normal year, students have multiple breaks from their academic load, and it’s completely normal for students to go home and visit their families every now and then. But Covid makes leaving campus complicated. Of course protecting the Bubble is as important as ever, but it’s absurd for the University to have expected all its students to be content on campus for a full semester with only three days off from classes. 

According to Dr. Nicole Noffsinger-Frazier, associate provost for student life, since the beginning of March, 229 students have left campus to return home; on the leave form, 69 percent of those students put mental health as their reason for leaving. 98 percent of those students returned to campus after their leave period. 229 students is a significant portion of the student body, and that’s not counting students who left without registering their leave. 

About a year ago, the University sent out a survey to the student body to better understand the impact the pandemic was having on mental health, physical health, and academic performance. 246 students responded to that survey, and 90 percent of those students reported that they had concerns about their mental health due to the pandemic.

 “That was what informed this leave policy,” Noffsinger-Frazier said, “so that students would be able to leave campus as they needed, for a reset, for a mental health break, to be able to go home and reconnect with family, and then come back as needed.” 

However, the leave policy, while beneficial in providing students with the opportunity to take a break from campus life, especially with the quarantine period lowered to only a week, does not solve the problem, especially if it’s the only tangible option given to us. It can help treat the problem of burnout and decreased mental wellbeing, but it doesn’t address the source of the problem. CAPS is a helpful option for some, but the therapists there can only take on so many students until they reach their capacity. The burnout is coming from somewhere, and it’s the University’s job to address the source for the sake of our wellbeing. It feels like the administration is leaving us in the cold, like they’d rather us leave if we’re struggling and deal with the problem ourselves, a problem we didn’t create, than change their approach and help us. 

Adding to the tension of campus life is an idea held by certain community members that, by going home, a student is somehow giving up or admitting defeat, which is a dangerous mindset when the current culture on campus is detrimental to many students’ mental health. The fact that so many students came back after leaving shows that they truly want to be at Sewanee, and they have hope things will get better. People are struggling in ways you cannot always see or understand. Students leaving campus is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that there’s a problem that the University needs to address.

Noffsinger-Frazier said, “I’ve had a lot of conversations with students about what other things we could be doing to support wellbeing and mental health, and beyond what’s already being offered and being able to leave and take a break, I haven’t gotten a lot of other ideas or strategies.” She expressed openness for students to give her feedback and information about specific needs that could help the administration form new ideas to support student wellness, which she views as a top priority. 

She continued, “As a clinical psychologist with decades of experience, I know how critically important wellbeing and mental health is, and I want to be doing everything I can to support students in that area. And again, knowing specific needs is really helpful in putting those in place. Because we can have lots of ideas and offer lots of things, just like reading days, but maybe that wasn’t really the most helpful thing. Maybe X or Y would have been better. The more we know, the better we can do and the more we can offer.” 

The reason the reading days are not helpful is the fact that they give us a total of three days off from classes spread over the semester, which honestly does not amount to much of a break. A reading day is one day off from classes in the middle of the school week, and, so far, over the course of two months, we’ve had two Wednesdays off from class. Many students do not feel able to take a break due to their workloads and end up using that time to complete homework, so reading days do not serve as genuine breaks from academic pressure. The two reading days we’ve had so far have been nice enough, but we need better break options. 

The University has allowed their students to reach this point of exhaustion, and the fact that they haven’t done anything concrete to address this shows a massive failure on their part to uphold their responsibility to the student body. The #makeittomay campaign especially makes it seem like the school wants us to push through the struggles of campus life for the sake of getting through Covid, without considering the impact on students of an accelerated semester with no breaks. 

There are ways to keep us protected from Covid while also protecting our mental health, and it’s the University’s job to determine how to do so. They haven’t done enough thus far this semester, and they could start by giving us a break. This doesn’t mean adding another reading day; this means giving us a real, honest-to-God academic break from classes and homework so we don’t feel like we have to escape the pressure of being here. It’s time for the administration to do something.

9 comments

  1. This is the biggest crybaby, self-indulgent column I’ve read in a long time. Aside from its brief mention of the racial epithets at the lacrosse game — a dispiriting occurrence and something to really be concerned about, like other racial issues that have surfaced at Sewanee. I suggest you stop and think for a minute about how fortunate you are: You attend a school that is academically first-rate; somebody other than you probably is paying for it; Sewanee’s surroundings are beautiful; the housing and meals are quite good compared to what’s offered at many other schools; you are lead by administrative leaders who seem to listen. So what if normal student life has changed because of the pandemic? These are relatively minor inconveniences — trivial in a world where people have died and will continued dying; have lost jobs; are late on their rents or mortgages; have small children who are losing ground because virtual learning is not the same as in-person learning. I could go on and on but it probably would be a waste of breath. “The pressure of life on campus”, “fatigue”, “feeling trapped”, “we need a break”, “this point of exhaustion”. Good grief! Oh the humanity! Time to put on your big girl pants and soldier on.

    1. The majority of classes are still online. We cannot leave. We fear to even gather because of the police presence being upped on campus. Our administration is absolutely lost when it comes to listening to students. Your comment shows an extreme place of privilege from someone who is not even studying here.

    2. As the old saying goes, “Be kind, everyone you know is fighting a great battle.” If someone is suffering from stress, depression, anxiety, the absolute worst thing you can say to them is “oh, boo hoo.” Sewanee is a beautiful place with many special qualities, and the closest I ever came to suicide was on that lovely Domain. It has nothing to do with how happy other people think you ought to be. Telling a depressed person they need to quit whining is like telling someone with anorexia that they just need to eat. Um, yeah. Sure. Call Patton over to slap the soldier with PTSD while we’re at it.

      This year has been God-awful. You and I have no idea what it’s like for students dealing with Covid, so let’s not pretend we do. I don’t think there’s a single person in this country who hasn’t felt like cracking up in the past year, and we have way more control over our circumstances than these students. I have to assume you thought your response was helpful, but it’s not. If you want to help, try listening instead of lecturing.

    3. Imagine being a grown man, far away from Sewanee’s campus with no idea what it’s like to be a student here this year, and somehow feeling like you need to bully some college kids in the comments section of a college publication. Sad.

    4. You have no idea what it feels like to be on campus this year. I can assure you it is a lot different than when you went to school decades ago. There was no pandemic, and you were probably allotted more than 3 off days in an entire semester. Why you feel the need to bully people in the comments section of a student publication during times like these is beyond me. It’s pathetic.

  2. The fact that this official news organization for the student body also remains silent about the offer of the peace that passes all understanding from the resurrected Jesus Christ on the campus of a university that is owned by one of the largest denominations in the country… the world… still blows my mind. Not to mention that those who love Jesus celebrated His resurrection yesterday on Easter Sunday. This same Jesus, Whose presence IS the true Sewanee experience, remains open to all: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” Isn’t there at least a remnant of those who can clearly recognize God’s voice when He speaks to them left on The Mountain? The alumni and students in residence? Two or more faculty members that can gather together? Anyone in the Administration… not even one? What about in town? My God, isn’t there at least one seminarian student or faculty member who even knows the importance of the question? I assure all y’all that His peace is available to every last single one of you stressed, obsessed, overcome, lost, lonely, isolated, burnt out, burning out, depressed, distressed, confused, disillusioned, or diseased… and He is ENOUGH! Everyone… every time… for all time. Look at the Window! I’ll pray with you: 941.773.0991.

    1. Is God going to be hosting a kegger at the Business house anytime soon? I can find peace in that.

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