Perspectives: Professors need to meet students where they’re at

Sara Klimek, Senior Environmental Studies Major

This year has certainly been like no other academic year for UVM students.

While we have seen great resilience in our ability to shift classes from in-person to online formats within a matter of weeks, it has come at a great cost to students who might not have the resources needed to make this transition seamlessly.

Have we made an immense oversight in estimating how many of our students actually have access to reliable internet, computers that can hold a charge, and even a desk where they can complete their work at home? And moreover, what is the cost of not recognizing the disparities for students that do not have access to these “necessities?”

I, like many individuals living in rural parts of the state/country, lack access to consistent, reliable internet. This prevents me from streaming videos, having multiple applications besides Microsoft Teams open at any one time, and sending emails with large attachments.

In many of my classes, professors have expected students to simultaneously stream a lecture, collaboratively work on a document, and maybe even submit a BlackBoard quiz. What this looks like, in practicality, is me shakily holding a cup of coffee and loudly screaming “WHY WON’T YOU WORK??” at my computer screen. Nobody wins.

While many professors have been super accommodating in offering extended deadlines and providing less-internet-intensive alternatives, others haven’t been as forthcoming.

When I asked a few of my professors to record lectures, just if they were intermittent and I missed a portion in my notes, they responded with “well, I don’t record lectures because that deters students from coming to classes.” They often continue on and suggest that I should use the library more for its consistent internet.

And logically, that would be a great idea- provided that I was on-campus (or even a Burlington resident). The reality is that I work, attend school full-time, and commute to campus. When you factor in the limited hours of the library services, you can’t help but recognize what little capacity UVM actually has to support its students during a global pandemic.

I guess I can’t underscore the importance of empathy during this difficult time- for all of us. Your professors might be balancing their teaching with helping their children learn from home. Your peers might have lost their job when their place of work closed in March.

Your friends might be worried about the health of their parents once college students come back for Thanksgiving break.

We’re all trying our best.

And because we’re all trying our best, we need to do out best to be accommodating of others and what resources they might have available to them. I believe professors should record their Teams lectures and offer extensions to students who express a genuine need for them (for reasons ranging from mental stress to a lack of technological accessibility).

Like COVID-19, kindness is contagious.