We all know flu season is upon us when both the air and our coughs get just a little bit crisper. Most of us also know just what it’s like to have the flu. The seemingly endless lethargy, the aches and pains, congestion, runny nose … you name it. It’s daunting on its own, but having the flu while you’re in college is a whole other level of horrifying.

Penn students can barely catch a break as it is. The flu just makes everything worse, simply put. We just want to get up on our feet again, make up the work we neglected to do while we were bedridden and resume the grind. If only it were that easy.

Recovering from illnesses, flu-like or otherwise, on a college campus is exceedingly and unnecessarily difficult. First and foremost, Student Health Services is just too far away from our classes and the residence halls. Located on 36th and Market streets, students often feel like they would be wasting precious moments away from their studies or extracurricular activities to go to SHS. We’ll feel even less motivated to go as temperatures drop. Even if time and the weather were not extreme issues — which they are for most people — it’s simply too hard for someone who is feeling really ill to muster up the energy to walk over.

If location weren’t enough of an issue, consider SHS weekend hours as well. Though its weekday hours seem appropriate, its weekend hours are a bit lacking. Specifically, SHS opens on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. and on Saturdays, it opens at 11 a.m. and closes as early as 4:30 p.m. On Sundays, SHS is closed. 

Illnesses still very much exist during non-business hours. Unaccommodating weekend hours are one of the most problematic aspects of what could be a student’s speedy recovery. This piece is not intended to criticize SHS, as its facilities are excellent and they provide a bevy of services and programs for a wide variety of needs. Those with the power to do so should improve the way that Penn students recover from illnesses by extending SHS hours and giving students time to get better.

Now, think about the sort of illness that may not require an SHS visit, but could be treated with simple rest, relaxation, and maybe some medication. That won’t leave a dent in your schedule, right? That’s where you might be wrong. A lot of seminars and recitations at Penn require attendance. Instructors may not give you extra points if you’re absent. They might even lower your grade for not being present. 

Submitting Course Absence Reports, at least initially, permits sick students to miss class. However, the number of times a student can miss a class due to a genuine illness without penalization varies widely from one professor to the next and is not standardized. Oftentimes, it is hard to “make up” these absences later on. We feel as though we have no option but to attend every single class, even if we may be ill. That doesn’t sound like a good idea, either.

For one, you’re sick, so you’re not giving yourself ample time to recover. Second of all, you could very well pass on your sickness to everybody else in the class. You could either sacrifice your grade or your own health as well as that of your peers. Your choice.

Though it may seem otherwise, a lot of the hurdles that come with getting sick in college are not just administrative. The hustle and bustle of college life, especially at a place as demanding as Penn, makes it seem unusual — if not shameful — to take some time for yourself to recover. As a whole, we should address the recovery period as something we deserve. We all need downtime, whether we are physically ill or not. Periods of relaxation help us get back on our feet and take on each day with more vigor and meaning than if we just get by.

Changing our attitude as a whole is a slow process that is hard to universalize. That’s why I think it should be both our responsibility and that of the University’s to ensure that we are given the chance, in some way or another, to really focus on our physical health. Greater accessibility to SHS and a way for instructors to account for illnesses by easing attendance requirements are necessary first steps.

Giving ourselves time to regain our strength and become well again shouldn’t be synonymous with just “treating” ourselves. It is simply something we owe ourselves during the four years that we spend dedicating time to our passions, no matter how wonderfully exhausting they may be.


ALEX SILBERZWEIG is a College sophomore from New York, studying mathematics and economics. Her email address is alexsil@sas.upenn.edu. “Brutally Honest” usually appears every other Tuesday.

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