Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

With few accommodations, ill students struggle

Nighttime view of a glass door with the words “University Health Services”
Louisa Gheorghita / The Daily Princetonian

Even in the quietest lecture halls, one sound is ever-present: coughing. From small seminars to COS 126, sickness in the classroom is ubiquitous. Such a trend at the start of the college year is not unheard of, especially during a COVID-19 spike. Many students, however, have tested negative for COVID-19 and claim to instead have the “frosh flu,” which is a colloquialism for having moderate to severe flu-like symptoms during students’ first year, an offshoot of the more widespread “Princeton plague” which has confined many a student to their rooms in the past few weeks. What’s unclear, however, is what adjustments the University and student organizations are making for these students. The answer is few, if any. As three interviewed first-years who caught some variation of the “frosh flu” can attest, Princeton’s general accommodations for students who are sick seem to fall flat, leading them to miss out on important Princeton or social experiences, shoulder extra personal costs, and fall behind academically. The University and student groups should therefore consider how to best accommodate such students in ways that allow them to prioritize their health, while not forgoing their academics or placing other undue burdens on them.

Given each interviewee’s experiences, Princeton’s social accommodations for sick students are demonstrably inadequate. In one case, Yousef Kassem ’27 made note of his lackluster replacement orientation. Kassem tested positive for COVID-19 and then got the “frosh flu,” resulting in him missing Outdoor Action. But he was underwhelmed by the University’s replacement, which he described as “a good attempt [at replacing small groups] but lacking.” Indeed, the replacement orientation was “lacking” because it attempted to compress four days of small-group experiences into a single Zoom call — clearly not a real effort at providing a substantial experience for students in quarantine. On the student club side, William Li ’27 also mentioned social difficulties. Being sick, he observed, has acted as a barrier from entering the club sphere at Princeton early on, because making proper first impressions on clubs with a selection process was more difficult while being sick, especially with in-person events. This sentiment was echoed by Siyeon Lee ’27 who noted that she has felt the need to distance herself from close-quarter gatherings, leaving less opportunity and time for socializing. These students’ experiences all raise the question as to what Princeton and student organizations are doing to push for equal opportunities for socialization or missed experiences for ill students.

Princeton’s lack of accommodations for personal costs, both financial and time-wise, was also a commonplace issue documented by each first-year. Lee, for instance, mentioned that being ill at Princeton has been a nuisance by causing her to modify her schedule, thus taking up her own time, and by affecting others’ time: “for example, when I went to the library … I was coughing over and over in the quiet space … being a disturbance to someone [else’s working time].” Meanwhile, financially speaking, Li has felt the need to “stifle coughs in class” and use over-the-counter medication to ease his symptoms, though the out-of-pocket costs for the medication have stacked up over the weeks. Kassem complained of similar problems upon visiting McCosh Health Center, which provided him with nothing more than cough drops and a salt and baking soda packet for gargling. Kassem noted, too, that he felt the need to instead spend his own limited funds to purchase cold and flu medicine, which proved to be a significant cost, much like Li's experience. Additionally, Kassem purchased items for his Outdoor Action trip that he could not use, since his sickness prevented him from going. Princeton certainly has the resources to provide assistance with these financial costs, so it’s curious to see that it currently seems like it is not doing so, making ill students struggle.

The lack of academic accommodations for ill students was also an issue, according to the first-years’ reports. Li stated that being a student and being ill prompts special challenges, as he is “operating at 60–80 percent” but is still expected to produce the highest quality work possible. Additionally, he noted that his ability to concentrate has been diminished; the stress he would typically undergo as a student is magnified by being ill; and his mental exhaustion is worsened. Kassem similarly discussed the challenge of keeping up with academics, mentioning that he believed his circumstances as an ill first-year student at Princeton worsened his mental and physical health, specifically because the “isolation was hard,” and he felt forced to prioritize his school work over recovering. Lee noted that being ill has also affected her academic performance, as “I am more tired all of the time, so I don’t have as much time to complete my work or start my work; it can be demotivating to quarantine yourself all the time.” University policy seems to have some limited academic accommodations in place for COVID-19, but it seems as if they may be lacking for other illnesses, causing a gap that may lead ill students without COVID-19 to fall behind and be treated as if they weren’t ill at all.

The “frosh flu” and adjacent illnesses are more than certainly affecting the first-year and general student population here at Princeton, from academic interference to mental and physical repercussions. These effects are intensified by the duration of the illness, with some students reporting feeling under the weather for nearly the whole time they’ve been a student at Princeton. For these students, the transition to college life has become far more difficult than it would have been if they had not gotten ill. Given the uptick in stress and difficulties that the above interviewees noted, it seems increasingly unlikely that their health is being seriously prioritized or accommodated by Princeton; the common thread across their different experiences was that Princeton itself did not lend enough support. But to truly improve this situation, the opposite must happen: Princeton and student organizations should heavily consider better accommodating ill students on-campus with social, financial, and academic accommodations, and act as bodies that facilitate recovery, not as ones that exacerbate it.

Davis Hobley is a member of the Class of 2027 and intends to major in neuroscience. He hails from Rochester, Michigan and can be reached through his email ( and personal Instagram (@davis_20.23).