Give us a break: online learning burnout

GRAPHIC BY EMILY FARROW/GRAPHICS CENTER

Lucia Verzola is a junior English major.

The weekend of Oct. 11, a year after USF’s 2019 fall break, caused the exhaustion of being a student during a global pandemic to sink in further. 

Though the power of technology has allowed college students across the country to continue pursuing their education by attending live classes via Zoom and watching pre-recorded lectures, it comes with a different form of mental fatigue. 

When USF prematurely announced that the fall semester would be a combination of on-campus, hybrid, and remote learning, fall break was eliminated for the physical health of the community, so fewer students would be traveling during this break. However, when the University decided to move exclusively online, the calendar remained unchanged, with a full week dedicated to Thanksgiving in lieu of the mid-semester break. Though this decision made sense with USF’s initial mix of in-person and remote learning, it no longer feels like a fair trade. With classes being online, there was no need for the University to eliminate fall break as a means of controlling the health of the on-campus community. It is difficult for me to think of other reasoning that justified their decision. 

Our nation’s current climate has many of us worried about much more beyond school — fear for the health of our loved ones with the continued spread of COVID-19, police brutality and the fight for the lives of the Black community, making ends meet as the pandemic impacts our income and businesses, and the fate of our country with the quickly approaching presidential election. These are just a few of the deep-rooted issues at the forefront of the national discussion and our own minds. With the wellbeing of ourselves and our community at stake, the exhaustion that has accompanied these worries while trying to stay focused on completing our studies can be overwhelming.

Scientific research has shown that long hours of staring at a screen impacts our physical health as well, causing eye strain, headaches, and lack of focus. These symptoms are referred to as computer vision syndrome. In a 2017 article from Harvard Health, Dr. Matthew Gardiner, an ophthalmologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, explained, “It’s most prevalent with computers, and typically occurs when looking at a screen at arm’s length or closer.” Unfortunately, this is exactly what college students now spend the majority of their days doing. 

USF took away a break from its students when we needed it most and continue to need it more than ever. The usual long weekend off in the middle of the semester would allow us to take a break from academics and focus on other things happening outside our lives as students. USF prides itself on one of its core Jesuit values, “cura personalis,” or care for the individual person, but I’m disappointed in the University for forgetting this value when failing to give the academic faculty and its students’ a moment for ourselves and our loved ones during these unprecedented times. This semester has arguably proven to be more exhausting than in-person learning ever was, and, though Thanksgiving promises a brief respite, students and faculty will have been working for 14 weeks straight up to that point, with finals and the close of the semester happening shortly thereafter. 

While I am looking forward to next month’s week-long Thanksgiving break, the outcome of the election and continuation of the pandemic remains at the forefront of my mind. With everything happening in our world today, I feel incredibly privileged that I have been able to continue my life as a student. However, it upsets me that the University has failed to invest in me as I have invested in them. I hope USF learns from this misjudgment as they move into the spring 2021 semester and what it will look like for its students. 

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