Telling students to take care of themselves ignores root issues

Students need compassionate action, not kind words

We can’t simply “relax” when we’re plagued by larger stressors. ILLUSTRATION: Siloam Yeung / The Peak

by Alex Masse, Staff Writer

A common grievance of being a student is putting up with all kinds of unsympathetic advice. It’s heard everywhere from our professors, our parents, and even our institution’s president. It’s easy to wish students well and suggest they take care of themselves, as if calling on a series of magical words will make them perk up and focus. But they don’t work, even on a good day. They’re especially meaningless when they’re followed up by deadlines, Zoom calls, and other academic stressors. School can’t exactly just stop happening, but without a tangible effort to make these times easier, the sentiment feels rather hollow. 

Outside of being relegated to Canvas now, everything is still business as usual. I probably won’t graduate on time because the hardships of distance education mean I have to take fewer courses per semester. On top of that, my entrance scholarship only applies if I take a certain number of courses at once. To my knowledge, SFU hasn’t changed the terms of that agreement despite this being an entirely different university experience. I’m too busy to partake in the self-care people preach about — but hey, at least I got an email telling me to spend time in nature and take a break from my phone.

Students aren’t at fault for not having time to relax or go for walks. Many of these things are privileges. Alongside their studies, some students work in essential positions that they risk their lives to fill. Some care for vulnerable family members and can’t afford to take much-needed breaks. Is it really a surprise that some students are just disappearing from online school outright, ghosting Zoom calls and discussion boards alike without explanation?

I understand we’ve had over nine months to adjust to the situation, but we are still living through a literal pandemic. It’s hard to adjust when SFU isn’t making things much easier. Mentally, I can’t afford much, and few people can. We don’t have control over what stressors we take on, and many of them can’t be simply put out of mind by self-care, which feels more like a luxury than a solution these days anyway. Sometimes, all you can manage is getting out of bed. Sometimes, that has to be enough. 

These hollow well-wishes are lackluster and unrelatable in the best of times, and these are not the best of times. If students can find the time to go for walks and cut down on screen time, that’s definitely something to take advantage of. But for many people, that’s a privilege. If universities could acknowledge this privilege, maybe they would be more lenient with, for example, reinstating compassionate grading schemes, redefining what it means to be a full-time student, and even giving students more days off — like they’re petitioning for over at Purdue University. Until then, I’ll be using what little time and energy I have to keep my head above the water.