The director of the Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success and a UC Davis student share reasons for taking an academic break
During online learning, students have struggled more and more with mental health and maintaining a balanced lifestyle. For some, however, functioning in an online collegiate environment has become fatiguing, according to Dr. Lina Mendez, the interim director of the Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success. She said that she’s worked with students who have had particular struggles with academics during this period of online school, to the point that they are considering withdrawing from the university.
“I have encountered a lot of students having a difficult time, especially this year, with everything going on,” Mendez said. “I don’t necessarily like to think of our students [as] dropping out as much as taking a break.”
In Mendez’s sessions with students, she’s learned that the reasons for taking a break from school have varied, sometimes relating to stressors of navigating the online quarter as a first-year, other times pertaining to the tragic losses families have experienced.
“It’s the fact that they’re losing loved ones,” Mendez said. “It’s the fact that they’re losing jobs or that they feel the pressure to get a second job and what that means for their studies. Or for new incoming students, just how hard it can be your first quarter and especially virtually, some of them are like, ‘Oh, I could take five classes,’ and the reality is for those of us who’ve been around, we know that’s not a good idea and that you should balance, but they don’t know that yet.”
Mendez said that she wants students to govern their own academic careers and to know that it’s okay to focus on the present rather than feeling burdened by future challenges.
“I always tell students that they’re in charge of their education and I always want students to feel like they have agency in the decisions they make and options that they have,” Mendez said. “I also tell students that during these times, we have to take it one day at a time—we don’t have to think about the end of the quarter or next quarter. We can just talk about today [in terms of] ‘What do I need to get done today?’ If you do the same thing for tomorrow and the next day, eventually we will get there.”
Pluto St John, a fourth-year wildlife, fish and conservation biology major, decided to take a break from school three weeks into the quarter for mental health reasons relating to the isolation of quarantine.
“It was just really bad at the very beginning of the quarter,” St John said. “That’s what seven months inside will do to you. I had a really bad depressive episode, like, week one, and then started the quarter a week and a half behind on schoolwork. And it just got worse from there because I was just stressed about school.”
St John said that they formerly dealt with mental health challenges and caught up on work before the pandemic by pulling all-nighters. They said that the format of online school has made this a near-impossibility for them.
“I will genuinely just sit down and watch lectures for six hours straight and not realize that six hours have passed until I just forget to eat,” St John said. “Whenever I’m behind on stuff, my go-to is ‘Ok, I’ll drink a Monster, drink some coffee and just get caught up in one night,’ but that doesn’t really work when you’re constantly behind because you can’t do things because you don’t take care of yourself.”
Although St John was able to withdraw, they recognized that not everyone is in the position to do so.
“It really is a privilege to be able to drop out,” St John said. “I have the finances to continue paying rent, and I didn’t get my full tuition refund back. My job doesn’t depend on how many units I’m taking or my source of income because I don’t get financial aid.”
For students who feel a need to take a break but can’t afford this option, St John recommends seeking a case manager from the Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs (OSSJA) to help coordinate extensions and other leniencies on due dates with professors.
According to the OSSJA website, the office staff are tasked with communicating with students and assisting them with their needs. Their case managers “make connections so that students in distress do not fall through the cracks.”
St John said that students who are burdened by online school and feel the need to take a break should remember that dropping out is not a reflection of their success.
“I’m trying to take care of myself,” St John said. “And there’s no shame in dropping out or asking for help. A lot of people drop out, […] even one of my favorite professors that teaches here dropped out of undergrad for a while. It’s important to know that it has no impact long term.”
Written by: Lyra Farrell — firstname.lastname@example.org