On May 4, 2020 President Paula Johnson sent out an email, casually mentioning that the term system was a possibility the College was looking into. “We believe that a schedule of shorter terms has the potential to introduce greater flexibility into an academic year in which public health considerations may require us to pivot quickly,” she wrote. Students were notified on June 23, 2020 that this was the College’s finalized plan for the 2020-2021 academic year. I, personally, was quite on board with the idea, perhaps even excited to be able to learn more during the school year. Three weeks ago, I was planning on taking three classes per term.
Now, I don’t even want to take one class. Simply put, the term system is brutal.
While the idea was good in theory, seven-week terms are not nearly enough to fully understand course material. Surely by now, those who were feeling overly ambitious have realized that taking even two courses at this speed is fatiguing — and daring to take three is not for the faintest of hearts.
Hannah Nies ’21 said, “I’m juggling probably over 200 pages of readings a week. Zoom fatigue is very, very real; this term system makes it as if we are constantly in class.”
As if the global pandemic was not making life hard enough, the administration forcing us to deal with this on top of the lack of edible food in the dining halls, the exhaustion just from regular classes and the stress of planning our next few college years just feels plain cruel.
What price are we paying for the “flexibility” Johnson hoped for? Every day as I trudge to class, fighting exhaustion despite sleeping eight to nine hours per night, I see dreary expressions and eye bags the size of grocery bags peering over the facemasks around me. It is impossible to get any real rest when you are always either working or sleeping. Mental and physical health seem almost nonexistent among Wellesley students at this point.
Hannah Elizabeth ’22 commented, “The biggest thing that has concerned me is that on this system it doesn’t feel like you can have an off day. If mental health or family circumstances become overwhelming you’re not missing one day of class, you’re essentially missing two days of class.” I think this description hits the nail on the head; there is no real chance to get any rest without missing out on tons of information. Personally, I sprained my neck from spending too many hours craning over my desk while coding, and even with that injury, I still worked late into the night daily just to finish my homework. This is just not how we should learn.
Furthermore, the class timings are far less than ideal. I have classes daily ranging from times anywhere between 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. My classes, quite literally, force me to miss dinner or eat in less than 10 minutes — and I know that several other students are suffering in the same way. For those who struggle with eating disorders or other medical conditions, this lifestyle is their worst nightmare. “I seriously worry about the effect this is going to have on people’s mental health because this just isn’t sustainable,” Nies said.
Office hours have never been fuller. Despite most students only taking two classes at a time, it has become even more difficult to retain class material. As a teaching assistant myself, I see students who come to my office hours have difficulty grasping the basic concepts — and for good reason! It is impossibly hard to learn a full semester of college material in just seven weeks. To put things in perspective, high school AP classes are considered “college level,” and only a few years ago, many of us were taking them in the span of a year. Now, we are taking classes four times that difficulty at four times the speed.
Ruvimbo Tanaarwo ’23 said, “It’s good that the school is [taking] precautionary measures towards the uncertain future but our curriculum at Wellesley is not structured to support the term system. It feels like we are pacing ourselves to get through the syllabus without actually learning anything.”
It seems like the administration has forgotten that we actually have to use the things we learn in our classes and apply them when we join the workforce.
Indeed, how will our employers feel when we are unable to meet their expectations because we were forced to pick up life-changing skills in a matter of weeks? For instance, I know for a fact that everything I am learning in my major-related classes will be asked during internship interviews. I am not sure how I am supposed to learn this much and properly retain it in such a short period of time. What impression will employers have of myself and other future Wellesley graduates then? In the long term, how badly is this decision going to impact us?
So, Wellesley administration, we ask you: why was a decision like this made for the students without consulting the majority of them in any way? Are you willing to continue to risk student mental health and happiness for the sake of administrative flexibility? Would you be willing to actually ask us in the future about making such drastic changes to our lives? Remember, unhappy students make very angry alumni.