Fall semester burnout is here early this year and was inevitable

An attempt to quickly “return to normal” has hurt us more in the long run

Written By Amanda Andrews, Editor-in-Chief

How are you?

No, really, how are you?

I’ll go first. I am, quite honestly, exhausted. And stressed. And almost everyone who I’ve talked to on campus—from friends, other students, staff, administration, professors—feel the same. This kind of miserable feeling isn’t uncommon at Point Park, but it usually settles in after the nice, ever-so-brief lull of Thanksgiving Break when the massive, daunting end-of-term projects have piled up and deadlines are unrelenting.

We are only one month into the semester, with nearly two whole months before Thanksgiving Break, and yet the burnout is more real than ever. But why so soon?

Much like many corporate industries across the country, the university was eager to get students and professors back to the face-to-face, interactive environment after the mass availability of COVID-19 vaccines, meaning that Point Park has jumped right back to in-person classes. The only way they’re any different from the classes pre-March 2020 is the fact that everyone around campus is wearing a mask.

And this insistence of everything “returning back to normal” is where the problem lies.

In a time where we seem to argue about everything, perhaps there is one thing we can all agree upon: everyone just went through a traumatic 18 months. People all across the globe had to put their lives entirely on hold and shutter themselves inside while scientists researched the deadly virus and first responders bravely put their lives at risk to combat it. The months of uncertainty, combined with the fears of getting ill or passing COVID-19 to someone else, were unbearable. The death toll, now in the hundreds of thousands in the United States, speaks for itself. Some of us here at Point Park were undoubtedly directly impacted by COVID-19, some in more personal ways than others.

And the coronavirus has affected more than just people’s health. Jobs and businesses were lost, friends and even families had to isolate, all classes moved online and then many stayed that way last academic year. All of this was awful, but, at least here at Point Park, we generally complied with what was asked of us because we knew that in spite of these bleak changes, they were happening to protect the wider campus community.

All of this is to say, it has been a lot. And, with the Delta variant, it hasn’t exactly stopped, even though the distribution of the vaccine has slightly improved things.

With the COVID-19 vaccine, the expectation, at Point Park and other institutions, has been to say enough is enough—that remote classes were an emergency effort in response to the pandemic, were arguably ineffective in a lot of cases and served their purpose. They would argue that, no matter what, after 18 months of staying in our rooms, it was time for all of us to get back into the classroom already and pick up right where we abruptly left off.

This kind of approach, while perhaps well-meaning, completely fails to take into account the trauma experienced during the worst of the pandemic. After adjusting to socially distanced life, another shock to our systems was not what was needed for students, faculty and staff this academic year. A fair percentage of students, including myself, and even instructors were totally remote for everything last year. With no real transition period, we are, much like we were at first with remote learning, left to fend for ourselves and relearn how to actually learn in this now unfamiliar school environment.

We’ve forgotten how to feel comfortable in a space with at least 15 other random students, how much commute time factors into things, how to balance clubs (now that those are a thing again) with our other responsibilities. Some students even took on more obligations during the pandemic to keep busy, and now, with all in-person classes, have lost that flexibility to multi-task and are scrambling to keep up with everything.

As a result, students who are overwhelmed with the sudden stimulation and all of what’s being asked of them skip class and turn in late work, and instructors are left frustrated with students’ absences and seeming lack of interest in their classes. Some students who normally thrive academically are struggling to make passing grades on assignments.

Faculty, staff and administration have their own burdens with the shift back to in-person, with several challenges that are usually not on traditional students’ minds like finding childcare, restructuring curriculum again to suit an in-person environment, and managing more tasks with more going on at the university.

All of this said, my point is not that we should have never returned to in-person classes on campus; as I said before, learning last year was very much a challenge. There are numerous aspects of being back that are so much better, such as being able to meet with friends, having more of a connection with our professors and much more. It is the execution of the return which has left so many drained of all their energy and motivation that caused the burnout problem we face now.

There is no sense in me going into how I would have handled Point Park’s return to in-person classes because we are six weeks into the semester and I am not, nor will I ever be, in a position of power to make or influence those kinds of decisions at the university. What is more beneficial, I think, is to discuss how to prevent further burnout.

We have to meet each other where we are. At the very least, since we have been thrown back in the classroom and expected to sink or swim and not meaningfully talk about the last year and a half, the university as a whole is going to have to accept that not everyone is at their 100%—and that we shouldn’t be expecting their 100%. All people at all levels at Point Park are going to need to adjust what they are requesting of others. With such dramatic changes in our lives, and the unresolved nature of this pandemic, it is going to take a while for everything to be back to the way it was before.

And we need to tell each other, and ourselves, that it’s okay that the return to normal may take longer than we wanted.