The start of November marks the end of midterms for many students and the beginning of finals-induced stress for the next month. Our staff reflected on the toll that the intensity of this semester’s exam season took on our mental health and our ability to maintain a healthy school-life balance.
Coming into this semester, we were aware that we would have to readjust our work habits to accommodate in-person classes and a more lively social life. However, this adjustment is ongoing and many of us are still learning how to schedule ourselves in order to be fully present for every aspect of our lives.
As we split our time between schoolwork, studying for exams, dedicating ourselves to extracurriculars, and working one or multiple jobs, our staff found themselves feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. In a city as expensive as San Francisco, it is hard to find moments of rest as our time is spent making sure we can afford the cost of living while simultaneously keeping up with the rigors of higher education to the best of our abilities.
For some, a factor that contributed to our sense of exhaustion was the return to living off-campus or out of the city. The commute to campus cut into valuable study time, as their schedules could no longer be planned around a two-minute walk to the library. Additionally, some of us lost the possibility of being on campus for a late-night study session. We had to factor in getting home while buses were still running or while it was safe enough to walk unless we could afford the cost of ride-booking services.
While we as a staff are overwhelmingly happy to be back on campus for in-person classes, we feel that the community should continue being conscious of the pandemic. If being away from the Hilltop taught us anything, it is that sometimes all of us require much-needed mental health breaks, no matter the cost. Our goals and objectives lose meaning when we cannot show up to them with the utmost commitment.
For some of us, professors have offered the option of not coming to class at all, or attending virtually through a hybrid system during stressful periods like exam week. These practices should not be seen as something reserved for the pandemic, and they should be kept when this turbulent period of time has passed. With the right support, students can continue meeting class expectations without having to be in a physical space.
Additionally, we are continuously disappointed with the lack of support given to the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). While we appreciate having a psychological resource available to us and included in our tuition, we feel that these benefits are a missed opportunity. Due to a limited staff, CAPS is largely unavailable in times of high stress or crisis. This short staffing issue creates conflict between students and workers who are already spread entirely too thin.
More attention needs to be given to mental health resources, and the University needs to plan for high-capacity weeks in accordance with exam schedules to be able to accommodate the volume of students in need of psychological assistance and mental health resources.
While the University routinely promotes itself as one of the most diverse in the country, that label needs to be present in the faculty and staff as well as the opportunities created for Black people and people of color. Currently, nine of 14 CAPS staff members are white. We feel this is a disservice to Black students and students of color as predominantly white groups cannot relate or be cognizant of the lived experiences that come with being from a marginalized community. This could be an issue as the department is at risk of treating everyone with a one-size-fits-all approach.
In general, we feel that CAPS should be advertised more openly and made more widely available to students. Neither students nor staff should suffer due to circumstances out of their control. The supply has to match the demand for CAPS to be a truly meaningful resource. In addition to counseling through CAPS, the University could improve on its promotion of mental health related socials, activities, and workshops, especially around exam weeks.
Since the CAPS staff is relatively small for a university with a student population of over 11,000 students, we also feel that the University could improve on providing professors and other university mentors with the resources to aid students with their mental health. Having an informed faculty would help us as students to reach out to mentors that we trust. With the proper channels, we can ensure that students have the opportunity to tend to their mental health and avoid burnout.