by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Tahra Jirari writes for the Martin Center about college students’ continuing concerns about COVID-19’s impact.
Students have had to make many sacrifices over the past year, be they financial, academic, or personal. The sudden changes and conflicting campus policies have taken a significant toll on their well-being and mental health. After a lifetime of in-class learning alongside their peers, colleges pushed them off-campus and into de facto isolation via Zoom.
After six months, the effects became clear: students were stressed and anxious, struggling to adapt to new circumstances. Those were the results of one study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) of about 2,000 college students. “Zoom fatigue” became a common feeling as students spent even more time in front of a computer screen.
In the first months of the pandemic, professors were quick to be understanding. Deadlines were delayed and college officials talked about the importance of mental health; many colleges told their students that they have “continued to invest in our mental health and counseling programs.”
However, after three semesters, students feel as if the mental health rhetoric was all for show. The short-term changes did not become long-term policy. Since spring 2020, little more has been done to help struggling students. And students feel unsupported, left to fend for themselves.
An April survey found that 87 percent of professors believe that they are witnessing a severe decline in student mental health during the pandemic, showing that professors are aware of this worsening issue. But many of them lack the mental health training to help students, and colleges didn’t anticipate a long pandemic that would require long-term changes.
On a practical level, college officials need to streamline communication so students 1) know what’s expected of them and 2) can give feedback that helps professors, provosts, and presidents make necessary changes.