How Mercer’s Accelerated Semester Impacted Students

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La'Nissa Rozier

“Burnt out.” “Exhausted.” “Tired.” “Broken down.” These are all responses gathered by students asked to briefly describe how they feel after Mercer’s first accelerated semester. None of which are positive. 

Fall 2020 at Mercer University and many other universities state-wide looked very different from any other academic term. It’s academic calendar, daily regulations, and the way classes were delivered was unprecedented. 

Following Spring 2019, during which students were sent home to complete 100% virtual classes weeks before the term was scheduled to end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fall 2020 allowed students to return to campus, but with rigid guidelines. 

According to the Mercer Provost, the accelerated semester was designed to “minimize travel-associated breaks, meet accreditation-mandated contact hours per credit hour requirements, preserve the general university calendar, and minimize online instruction for face to face courses.”

The Labor Day, and Fall Break holidays we’re not observed, and students were expected to perform from the beginning of classes on August 18th, until the last day of classes on November 24th, with no breaks. 

“It’s unreasonable to expect us to continue to perform well given the circumstances around the pandemic and the little leeway we are given as students,” 4th year student, Yasmeen Hill said. “I’ve had the virus during the semester and without breaks my workload stunted my mental health.”

Of course classes were not held on the weekend, but most students did not consider that enough of a mental or emotional break from the constant workload. 

“The work loads of many students are just simply not sustainable with no breaks. Weekends are often not breaks for students, they are simply time to catch up on homework and projects they may have not finished during the week,” second year student, Mo Baldwin said. “Professors still assign work over weekends and I think this is something the University didn’t consider. Weekends don’t mean free time to relax for most students.”

Students have taken to social media, emails to administration, and even tried to talk to local news about their disapproval of how Mercer has handled this semester amid the global pandemic. 

“Those emails should have been a huge hint to the administration,” Fourth year student, Jaila Lewis said. “Like, did y’all not realize how many emails you sent out daily? You thought that everything was fine with those “We have been doing the best we can in this pandemic.” And “Unfortunately, someone in your class has become positive…” messages. But, they have literally made my life a living hell. I honestly struggled so hard to finish off my applications to grad school and keep up with my grades.”

Students feel as though their mental and emotional health have been compromised and not prioritized by the school. 

“There are a lot of stressors affecting everyone due to the pandemic and accelerating the semester puts the needs of students on the back burner,” Hill said. 

“I feel like the university did try to prioritize students’ physical wellbeing, but I think they chose to neglect mental and emotional well-being,” Baldwin said. 

Students have reported feeling mentally, physically, and emotionally drained by the constant workload and not being able to have the mental break they need. 

“The burnout of constantly working with no breaks has been exceptionally stressful and has made it harder for me to find time to work on my mental health which has been hard,” Baldwin said. “Since we’ve had no breaks, I haven’t been able to return home more than once and that has made my anxiety increase because I feel as though I am missing important things back at home with my family.” 

While most students agreed that the accelerated semester was very challenging, responses were mixed when asked if the students felt like the professors made proper adjustments in order to be more accommodating during the pandemic and accelerated semester.  

Some students applauded their professors for absence forgiveness and being more lenient on deadlines. 

“Most of my professors were okay. They almost all provided accommodations for students who couldn’t meet in a physical classroom. Many of my professors were also very understanding that meeting deadlines has been hard for many students and have given flexible timelines for many students,” Baldwin said. “The biggest change I saw was attendance forgiveness. Most of my professors completely dropped their attendance policies which I felt was very considerate for them to do. Walking into a nearly empty classroom some days was always jarring for myself and I have to imagine it’s even harder for professors.”

In contrast, some felt as if the professors were just as strict as before. 

“My workload has nearly tripled this semester, and with all the teachers having multiple assignments due via different methods I have submitted many assignments late,” Jackson said. “Today the late penalties are still strictly upheld in all of my classes but one. And I have gone Kindergarten- sophomore year of college having regular breaks. Then in the middle of a pandemic is when they decide to cut breaks and increase workload.”

All in all, when asked, most students said that the accelerated semester had a negative impact on their academic performance, emotional and mental health. 

It has been announced that Mercer’s Spring 2021 will be an accelerated semester as well. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is still constantly changing and so is the university system’s response to it. Students, professors, and administration are doing their best to adapt to these changes.