Mental health & modules: why the Mac admin needs to give us a spring semester

Mental health & modules: why the Mac admin needs to give us a spring semester

Amy Vandervelde, Copy Editor & Opinion Editor

Take a breath. We made it to the end of our first module. But get ready because we’re supposed to endure this chaos three more times.

As of now, the Macalester administration has shared no plans to modify the spring 2021 schedule to revert the modules back into a regular spring semester — or at least as regular as anything can be amidst 2020. This lack of decisiveness comes even as a vast number of campus members share negative views on the module system — students, staff, and faculty alike. Why does the administration claim that they are keeping this schedule? They say that it is to make it easier to transition with any changes in the COVID-19 situation and to work with the feedback they received in the spring. But I don’t think that the module system supports either of their claims.

First off, the pandemic will not change on the module’s schedule. Change is not controllable. The module system of two classes — where missing one day of something places anyone further behind than missing a single day of semester classes — demonstrates a major flaw in the module planning. Four classes provides you with spacing in your schedule. You have time. You have breaks. And most importantly, you have a clearer idea of where you are if you miss one day of class. One of the common tips for studying, even shared by the MAX Center in the Mac Daily on Oct. 7, is to regularly switch what course you are working on. In other words, you work better if you switch gears. If you are working really hard on a paper and find that you’re stuck, then taking a break by doing your reading for another class is a super productive way to let your subconscious do some of the heavy lifting for you. This studying tip also works especially well when you do not have much time in the day or feel anxious about needing to constantly be productive.

We’ve already seen that we spend more time in class in a module than in a semester, which adds to this issue. When we only have two classes, or maybe one for some folks, then we don’t have the luxury of switching between work for different courses. We are constantly focused on only one or two things. We’ve heard that the module schedule was meant to provide this focus because of feedback in the spring. I’d argue that this feedback was misused.

I won’t lie. This is my third partial semester from home. Some Mac folks know that I finished my first year up at home with a broken ankle. All four classes were completed with remote work that I coordinated individually with my professors. That semester was far easier for me than juggling these two classes from home when everyone is in the same remote boat. That makes no sense to me, and I know that the faculty are doing their best to accommodate everything that they can. My professors have done absolutely everything they can to help us with the lack of time, but they cannot add more time to a module where the administration has already cleaved our usual semester’s length of time in half. 

Despite modifications and limits on coursework, the modules obliterate the usual caliber of learning that I’ve come to know at Macalester over three years. The lack of time is inhibiting us, and the administration must recognize that now before we suffer through this for far longer than necessary. The problem is the module system. It is not forgiving. It is not helpful. It is not worth deteriorating the well-being of the Macalester student body so that the administration can feel better about having that break in the middle of the semester in case they have the opportunity to possibly make changes to an altering pandemic situation that they cannot control.

I can only speak to my own dealings in the module system, but the modules are awful. I am balancing two fewer classes than normal, working less hours than normal, and yet I’m more tired than ever before. My anxiety is lessened from being at home, but my stress levels are higher than ever because I am in a state of continuous work. From speaking to many of my peers, I know that we are working nonstop. We have no time to ourselves. The administration is putting us all through our own personal ninth circle of hell. We are all separated from each other, but I’d go so far as to say we can all agree that the modules do not help us. They hinder us in both our learning and our mental health. 

The faculty can do everything in their power to help us, but they cannot change the rollercoaster-like pace of these modules. I am worried for all of us. We cannot do this three more times. Many of us don’t want to do it one more time, but for the second half of fall 2020, it’s too late. However, I urge the Macalester administration to listen to the students’ pleas. We are begging for your help. We understand that it makes coordinating a transition off campus more difficult if there isn’t a break in the middle. But we can keep a break in the middle of the semester. We don’t need to have modules with rushed classes to do that.

Macalester administration has said that they want to better support students’ mental health, so here’s their chance: give us a spring semester. The administration has made it clear that they are very open to feedback, and we are asking for four remote classes designed to work that way. The big problem with last spring was the abrupt switch that couldn’t be helped. This spring can have the necessary preparation to make four classes at a time work remotely. We are hoping that student voices might actually be heeded because we are tired. The modules are too rushed to offer an actual college experience; we’re just cramming everything into our days as best as we can. Our scheduling options are less malleable for jobs because we have class almost every day of the week for larger periods of time. The first-years lost half of their FYC experience because of time constraints. We in the senior class have missed, or will miss, half of our capstone research time, rushing projects that some of us have been thinking about already for longer than 7.5 weeks. But most importantly, we are fearing that the Macalester administration will once again ignore us. The modules are unstable. They make our lives chaos, they increase our stress, and they make us miserable.

Some may disagree with those statements, and I can see where they might. Maybe there are folks who prefer the two classes to four, but I ask whether they are accounting for what differences will be made for a fully prepared spring 2021 semester rather than the quick shifts that had to be made in spring 2020. And no, taking a leave of absence is not an option for everyone, especially seniors with one more semester to go. There should be a solution that allows students to take classes where the only options are not constantly running in a burnout state of mind or taking a leave of absence.

I write this as a senior who watched what the class of 2020 went through, and I want our senior year to be different. We shouldn’t dread our final semester of college, but I and many others are currently in that position. Something must change. The modules must go because we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our free time, our well-being, or our mental health to keep up with classes.

I ask that the Macalester administration seriously consider recent student feedback, not just feedback from the unprepared remote learning of last spring, to make their final decision for the spring semester. We need to have a full semester. We should have four classes that last for 15 weeks to give ourselves enough time to manage everything. The module system carries no benefits, and we need some sense of normalcy back in our Macalester education.

Let the class of 2021 leave Macalester having had a decent end to our senior year. Allow the first-years a chance to see what a Macalester semester looks like. Don’t make us continue suffering in these modules. We can tell you this after one module. Imagine what we will say if we are forced through four of them.

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