Students’ well-being in a pandemic

On Nov. 30, 2020, the University of Utah's Academic Senate unanimously endorsed an ASUU resolution on student well-being during COVID-19. The senate encouraged all university course instructors to consider taking (to the extent consistent with accreditation and pedagogical objectives) one or more of the actions suggested by ASUU in the resolution addressing student mental health issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This resolution was born out of witnessing the struggle that my peers and I were experiencing trying to learn during a pandemic," said Maeve Wall, ASUU senator and Academic Senate Executive Committee member. "Around the time that we were meant to have Fall Break, I felt overwhelmed in a way that I haven't before. I am a strong student, but I could not keep up with course work. My own mental health issues were flaring up in ways that made it hard to function at my normal capacity. I thought maybe it was just me, but every time I shared these feelings with a peer or even a faculty member, they would express the same sentiment."

"We're so excited about this resolution being passed, but not simply because we helped get it to that point," said Ephraim Kum, ASUU president and Academic Senate Executive Committee member. "The true excitement lies within the fact that this resolution was one of the purest transmissions of unadulterated student voice our institution has ever seen, and now the University is listening to that voice. That is so important, and is very powerful, especially given what is at stake: the mental and emotional wellbeing of our campus community."

“These actions are optional and may not be appropriate for every course and setting, but please consider incorporating one or more of the suggestions, where consistent with accreditation and pedagogical objectives,” said Randy Dryer, Academic Senate president, in a message to teaching faculty. “This resolution is principally the work of students with some input from faculty members and provides a meaningful way for faculty to help alleviate the anxieties of students.”

Below are the suggested best practices listed in the resolution.

Suggested actions

  1. Verbally discuss the opportunity for assignment extensions and accommodations and on the syllabus.
  2. Verbally discuss the credit/no credit option for the class, as well as include this information in the syllabus.
  3. Verbally discuss their plans for recording/not recording the class meetings and allow for students to request, confidentially, that they not be recorded.
  4. Do not assign work to be due during the week that is traditionally Spring Break (March 7-14, 2021).
  5. Provide a five-minute “biology break” per each hour of class on Zoom.
  6. Check in twice during the semester with students about workload and course pacing.
  7. Encourage alternative forms of student engagement, rather than mandating student camera use.
  8. Instructors assigning asynchronous work should match the workload of a synchronous course.
  9. Instructors should provide three “mental health days,” for students that can be taken off, similar to excused absences, in observance of their mental health and well-being.