The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authors’ views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.
To the administration of Princeton University and the Princeton community at large:
We, the undersigned Residential College Advisers (RCAs) of Princeton, write to you out of duty to the students of this university. We have been alarmed at the administration’s lack of substantive response or serious regard for the compounding effects of widespread mental health concerns, excessive stress, and dealing with a global pandemic.
While we are pleased by the recently-announced postponement of Dean’s Date, we believe the University must enact more substantial and enduring policy to alleviate long-term issues related to student stress and mental health.
Though the administration’s decision to postpone Dean’s Date displays an acknowledgment and validation of student hardship, it falls short in the following ways. First, it does not provide any aid to certain populations of the student body, such as BSE students and some AB students whose finals consist of only or primarily exams. Indeed, the current exam policy proves to be a hardship for many students. Additionally, the extension of Dean’s Date neglects to address those assignments that have due dates before or after Dean’s Date itself; these professors may assume that their assignments do not require extensions since they were not initially due on Dean’s Date. Furthermore, professors are not currently obligated to extend their Dean’s Date assignments. The extension must be enforced. In short, this small fix does not solve the current dilemma students are facing, and even more notably, cannot act as a lasting solution for the insidious issues at hand.
There are several possible (though still temporary) solutions to these problems. First, a mandate requiring extensions for those papers not due on Dean’s Date should be implemented. This should also apply to the Junior Independent Work deadline. Next, since exams are primarily take-home, we propose an extension of the possible exam period through the month of May, which will allow students the choice of when to take them, at their convenience, under the Honor Code system. Another option regarding exams includes the passage of a mandate requiring the conversion of exams to less intense formats, such as removing time limits (inside the exam window), implementing page caps, or allowing students to use notes.
Still, we must remember that small fixes such as an extension of Dean’s Date, and even the further solutions proposed above, though still relevant and helpful at the moment, only act as temporary band-aids for the systemic issues that will continue to contribute to the deterioration of student mental health and wellness. The wounds will continue to be open until long-lasting action is taken.
Indeed, as in the old “public health river parable,” we must find the source of those who are “drowning” to prevent suffering from the beginning, rather than waiting for them to be in peril to offer resources. Therefore, we call for current and future academic policy by the Princeton University administration to employ compassion and empathy first and as a non-negotiable factor in decision making, rather than prioritizing and privileging traditions of academia, prestige, and rigor. Appearances and optics matter less than the lives of students.
As RCAs and active community members, we speak not only for ourselves but for the advisees and community members with whom we are constantly in contact: the current circumstances are not sustainable or healthy. We are often the first-responders to student mental health crises. One RCA told us, “I have sat in a dorm room holding a crying student who felt she could not go on if she had to complete one more assignment.” Another tells the story of so many students they encounter who are simply frozen in their tracks by the deluge of misfortunes that continue to occur every day — the very thought of work causes them to burst into tears.
Tiger Confessions, an anonymous Facebook group for students, is inundated with alarming emotional statements as of late. “I have suffered enough,” one reads. Another anonymous poster writes, “It’s not that I’ve stopped crying, it’s just that I’m so dehydrated my body can’t produce tears anymore.” One more commenter says, “Stop telling me that CPS is always open … I [visited CPS] the second week on campus … I am literally doing all I can and I’m asking you to be human and help me pass this semester …” A Twitter thread of confessions demonstrates countless other grievances. The lives and futures of our students are on the line, and Princeton needs to take accountability and act for the welfare of its students.
Administrators must not only recognize student suffering but also act intentionally and immediately to implement lasting changes that may not have been considered in the past. It is often noted that current times are unprecedented — our response must be unprecedented as well. The underlying assumption that students can continue to function as we did prior to this pandemic, the influx of constant racial trauma, the ever-present reality of death in and around our community, and the continued salience of adjustment to sudden, acute social isolation is dangerous. Indeed, this University expected (and continues to expect) an unreasonable amount of emotional, mental, and academic flexibility, bandwidth, and resilience from its students even before the pandemic. We know that this can and should change. The University, even in postponing the Dean’s Date deadline, still only addresses the symptoms of a problem it has partially created and indeed continues to perpetuate.
After the conclusion of this extremely trying semester, we hope that this action and consideration for students will continue. Instead of only referring students to CPS and the Office of Religious Life, we implore you to implement significant changes to the structure and norms of the academic year that reduce the stress and mental anguish of students. We will continue this work in earnest, and hope that you will continue to listen to the suggestions of your students.
We write this letter in solidarity with all students at Princeton University who have struggled to cope with a range of difficulties this semester and this year. “You are not alone” is rhetoric that must be matched with action. This is our hope — to help produce this action for you, your mental wellbeing, and your ability to thrive here at Princeton. After all, if we are to be “In the Service of Humanity,” the University should be in the service of its students.
With utmost sincerity,
Josiah Gouker ’22, Rockefeller College RCA
Chloe Horner ’22, Mathey College RCA
Samm Lee ’22, First College RCA
Ben Herber ’22, Rockefeller College RCA
Will Stocovaz ’22, Rockefeller College RCA
Fumika Mizuno ’21, First College RCA
Isabel Lewis ’22, Mathey College RCA
Ella Whitfield ’21, Butler College RCA
Thea Dimapeles ’21, First College RCA
Jessica Cobian ’21, Mathey College RCA
Emily Ryu ’21, Whitman College RCA
Jeremy Bernius ’22, Whitman College RCA
Sabrina Fay ’22, Butler College RCA
Munisa Said ’22, Butler College RCA
Zyanne Clay-Hubbard ’21, Forbes College RCA
Kelton Chastulik ’21, Whitman College RCA
Bruno Aravena Maguida ’21, Rockefeller College RCA.
Austin Colorite ’21, Whitman College RCA
Leah Linfield ’21, Rockefeller College RCA
Kamya Yadav ’21, Rockefeller College RCA
Kavya Chaturvedi ’21, Whitman College RCA
Emily Sanchez ’22, Mathey College RCA
Josh Eastman ’22, Forbes College RCA
Ana Pranger ’22, First College RCA
Ashley Scott ’21, Butler College RCA
Jackson Vail ’21, Butler College RCA
Masha Miura ’21, Whitman College RCA
Zhamoyani McMillan ’21, First College, RCA
Angie Sheehan ’22, First College RCA
Brandon Dunlevy ’21, Forbes College RCA
Cassidy Humphreys ’22, Rockefeller College RCA
Anu Vellore ’22, Butler College RCA
Peter Taylor ’22, Forbes College RCA
Aemu Anteneh ’22, Forbes College RCA
Chris Flores ’21, Forbes College RCA
Lourdes Santiago ’21, Forbes College RCA
Abraham Waserstein ‘21, Butler College RCA
Kirsten Keels ’21, Mathey College RCA
Robert Shi ’21, Forbes College RCA
Rola Adebogun ‘22, Forbes College RCA
Austin Mejia ‘21, Mathey College RCA
Scott Overbey ’21, Butler College RCA
Tinashe Handina ’21, Whitman College RCA
Hifsa Chaudhry ’22, First College RCA
Daniel Benitez ’21, Forbes College RCA
Kalyn Nix ’21, Whitman College RCA
Mayowa Oke ’22, First College RCA
Others may co-sign this letter by filling the Google form at https://forms.gle/2eLEbDT9p6WLJXz88.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include more RCA signatures.