Only seven students held up signs asking UB administrators for academic relief as part of a UB Feeling Burnt Out demonstration at Flint Loop Wednesday.
But for Andy Canizares, the small turnout is no surprise.
“It’s hard to protest burnout when you’re burnt out,” Canizares, a graduate public health and urban planning student, said. “Students who are already struggling with class can’t afford to miss it to protest struggling with class.”
Jacob Barkan, a graduate student in the UB School of Architecture and Planning, says he and other students within the architecture school and UB School of Public Health were inspired to start the demonstration after feeling “fed up” with the university’s “utter disregard” for mental health breaks. The demonstration, which was scheduled from 12 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, saw students showing their support and creating signs expressing their disapproval with the university’s decision-making this semester.
“As a student body we feel alienated that all these other SUNYs, that have comparable populations and programs to us, have been able to factor in at least one to three mental health days throughout the semester and UB just says it was complicated and [to plan ahead],” Barkan said. “It makes us feel like we’re really just names on a sheet to them.”
Barkan was referencing a comment from UB spokesperson John DellaContrada last December, which encouraged students to “assess their course selections and workloads,” “communicate regularly” with advisors and consider using UB’s mental health resources to help them focus on their mental health during the long semester.
The Faculty Senate considered multiple versions of the spring calendar, according to an Oct. 29 email sent to UB administrators from Faculty Senate Chair Robert Miletich. But, after lengthy debate, members felt they had to settle on a breakless calendar.
Although SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras canceled spring break with his comprehensive COVID-19 plan, he allowed campuses to build single-day, “midweek reading days… as an alternative instructional pause” during the spring semester. SUNY schools like Binghamton University and SUNY Geneseo chose to give their students ‘Rejuvenation Days.’
Barkan and fellow graduate student Leah Carpenter created a petition calling on UB to do the same as these other schools. Barkan says he and Carpenter celebrated once they reached 100 signatures because they thought many people didn’t care. Now, the petition has over 3,500 signatures.
Their new goal is 5,000.
“We talked to some of our peers and we knew that everybody was not doing well this semester, so it’s not just that we’re burnt out, but we’re also worried about our grades,” Carpenter said. “Jacob and I are both looking forward to doing a thesis in the upcoming couple semesters and we need to have a good GPA to do that and I don’t want this semester in particular to tank that and ruin that for me.”
Besides pushing for mental health days, UB Feeling Burnt Out members also demanded:
- No penalties on past due assignments.
- Instructors drop lowest assignment grades.
- Extending due dates for relevant assignments until the last day of classes.
- Expanding student eligibility for the satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading system.
- Demanding the university prioritize mental health.
Partaking in the demonstration offered Barkan and the other students a chance to show they aren’t “suffering alone.”
“At the very least we’ve all come together to not feel isolated anymore, we’re not just all complaining, but once we see how many people it has been affecting, which is almost unanimous, it really just speaks out to how bad and severe the situation is,” Barkan said.
Canizares says he thinks the university is addressing mental health as a personal problem, instead of a systemic, public health issue. He says change needs to happen on a structural level, and that in this case, that change should come in the form of breaks for students.
“This is not an individual problem, but a public health problem,” Canizares said. “So UB needs to treat it that way by giving time off to everybody and not just telling students to ‘plan carefully.’”
Ashley Hudson, a sophomore urban planning major, says the 15 week schedule has altered the way she approaches school. To her, it has become less about learning and more about competition.
“I feel guilty when I’m not working on school work,” Hudson said. “When I transferred to UB, I changed as a student and became more concerned with competition than with learning.”
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Alexandra Moyen is the senior features editor of The Spectrum.