Opinion – Zoom Fatigue and the Absence of Community: Why We Deserve an S/U Grading Option
By Shanzae Sarwar, Contributing Writer
I vividly remember the first moment I stepped foot on the campus of Gettysburg College three years ago. After two layovers and a 24-hour flight, I experienced the normal fatigue from international travel, but it was accompanied by a sense of excitement at the thought of studying abroad for the next four years. Three years later, I can proudly say that Gettysburg has become like a home to me; a place that I consider not just a college, but a campus where I found a community of peers and professors who supported each other. It was this feeling of community and belonging that made me feel excited to start each semester with a renewed sense of purpose.
In many ways, this year and all the challenges it brought took away that feeling of community and brought new hurdles that I was not prepared for. After finding myself unable to go home in March due to international travel restrictions, I spent the summer on campus with many of my fellow international students. After many months on an empty college campus, I remember eagerly awaiting the start of the fall semester and the return of my friends, professors, and a feeling of normalcy. However, this feeling was short-lived as I saw my friends forced to leave campus once again and return to remote learning. This time, the loss of community and the return to remote learning proved to be much more exhausting than the two months of Zoom classes last spring.
The strain of online learning and Zoom fatigue has made it harder for many students like me to perform well in classes, with online learning taking away so many opportunities for active engagement, participation, and discussions. It has contributed to a constant Zoom fatigue from staring at a laptop screen for 10 hours of class lecture time every week. Zoom fatigue isn’t just a headache that goes away after an hour — it is the stress that accompanies you when you realize that even after your classes are done for the day, you still have an insurmountable amount of work to complete without the support of your peers and friends.
Zoom fatigue is also the exhaustion that follows from attending online office hours. It is the anxiety that you experience from trying to coordinate remote group work with your classmates. It is the panic that arises when you experience an unexpected technical issue with your laptop or internet. It is the weariness that you experience as you try to drown out background noises outside your room during your class time. It is the tiredness you feel when you realize that all the club meetings you once loved no longer carry the same appeal in online Zoom meetings. It is the isolation you experience as you try to keep up with increasing expectations of classwork without the support of your friends and classmates.
I never expected a normal semester this fall, but I also did not fully understand the reality of the challenges that arose this semester until they hit me. Due to the strain of online learning, the amount of coursework is much more challenging than previous semesters of college. To add to an already exhausting semester, the Academic Policy and Program Committee (APPC) has failed to provide the security of the S/U grading option, a move that would have provided relief to those students for whom online learning has been mentally and emotionally draining. The S/U grading option was not meant to limit academic engagement of students; rather, it was meant to provide relief for students to focus on academic engagement without the stress of grades. To say that it is unfair to take away this option from students is an understatement. Many students like me are now finding themselves trying to meet unrealistic academic expectations while coping with personal difficulties, financial concerns, mental health problems, and the many trials and tribulations of this year.
To those who continue to oppose the motion for the S/U grading option, please take into consideration these experiences of students and reshape how you view academic engagement, especially at a time when students are experiencing unprecedented challenges. A student’s academic performance should not be assessed through a system that assumes that every student is being provided equal opportunities to succeed. Rather, students need to be provided with a learning experience that is flexible and adaptive; one that acknowledges the strain of online learning amidst the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic that we are still living through.