As classes kick into full swing with the first full week under our belts, students and faculty alike have rejoiced at the return of an in-person, maskless semester. And with the return of classes comes the return of strict policies — especially attendance. Students have already faced the dilemma of taking an absence when their class does not warrant one, causing many to drag their feet out of bed when they are mentally or physically unwell.
Professors should therefore have an option for students to attend class live from Zoom, providing the opportunity to stay up to date on class materials while also taking health into consideration. Especially in large lectures with hundreds of students packed in an enclosed room, it is important to be cognizant of the community’s overall well-being.
This is not to say that Zoom University should make a comeback. We can all attest that virtual learning is not an ideal academic experience. However, the past two years have taught us that online classes are possible, and it is better for students to learn from their computers than not learn at all. Though we all want life to return to normal, our extensive experience with COVID-19 has provided us with alternative solutions that should not immediately be discarded. Education is all about learning from the past, and we should utilize these prior adaptations to improve our current situations, rather than immediately fall back in line with our former way of life.
Although Philadelphia’s COVID-19 rates have decreased and, thankfully, present less of a risk compared to previous years, a wide variety of illnesses continue to circulate. The so-called “frat flu” always spikes up at the beginning of the semester, as well as the “freshman plague” that seems inevitable due to roommates, communal bathrooms, hookup culture, and unmasked classrooms. Monkeypox has also become a recent threat, with 703 cases in Pennsylvania and a majority of these cases located in Philadelphia. This is not to mention the multitude of seasonal illnesses that also occur as temperatures begin to drop.
Furthermore, college students are not exactly a beacon of health and wellness. “Seventy to 96% of college students get less than eight hours of sleep each week night,” which is detrimental to one’s health as “chronic lack of sleep impairs the immune system.” Stress also “does a number on the immune system,” and with a rigorous course load expected at Penn, students are undoubtedly sleep deprived and stressed throughout the week.
Penn was also ranked as the No. 1 party school in the country in 2014, with a social scene that remains similarly rambunctious to this day. Students turn to parties for social relief on the weekends, creating additional strain on one’s health. Not only do they consume copious amounts of alcohol, but they also turn to junk food and takeout for both comfort and convenience. To make matters worse, “most students don’t know how to care for themselves when they do get sick,” and insufficient care can prolong a pre-existing illness.
Of course, exposure to germs is natural and necessary, but falling ill is something to be avoided when possible. Because some professors have strict attendance policies, students are consequently deterred from skipping class when they really need to. Many large lecture halls have been filled with students hacking up a lung, eliciting eye rolls and dirty looks from their peers. Students should not have to jeopardize the health of their classmates in order to prevent themselves from falling behind. Many classes only meet two to three times a week, so a couple of absences could already mean a week’s worth of material to catch up on. During exams, this could have a severe impact on one’s final grade.
Mental health must also be considered, especially with substantial evidence that demonstrates how much Penn students struggle. In 2019, Penn received a failing grade of a D+ for mental health. That same year, Penn was also ranked No. 1 in the country for having the most depressed student body. It is therefore unfair for professors to expect consistent in-person attendance with the multitude of mental health issues that students endure.
Professors often decline to offer Zoom recordings after class in an effort to ensure participation and discussion. If students have the option to watch their lectures in their leisure time, they are more likely to sleep in and slack off. This undoubtedly produces bad study habits, as it grants the opportunity to push lectures off until the last minute, leaving students to cram months of material the night before an exam.
However, this is why professors should have the Zoom option available only during class time, so students who are unable to physically attend class can still join their peers at the scheduled hour. Professors can also establish policies that prevent abuse of the Zoom offerings. For instance, they can offer the Zoom link to students who provide advance notice, and they can speak privately to a student if an excessive number of absences were to occur for suspicious reasons. Attendance is certainly necessary for the sake of learning, and students should be able to fulfill attendance policies without jeopardizing their health.
Many professors also fear a privacy breach with the existence of class recordings published online for extended periods of time. Implementing a live Zoom option protects intellectual property as class material would only be accessible at a certain time to a certain audience and would therefore not be available for public consumption.
As Penn transitions back to the in-person experience we all desire and deserve, the community’s mental and physical health must stay at the forefront of our minds. There is no need for prior solutions to go to waste, and we should continue learning from the past to improve current life.
EMILY CHANG is a College junior studying communication from Holmdel, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.