Students should always feel that they can hold their tutors and lecturers accountable, especially concerning serious issues that drastically affect their ability to study. However, it seems that during a time when everyone at the University is struggling, lecturers and GTAs included, most students can’t seem to forgive the most insignificant of issues.
I’m talking about tasks being set at short notice, technical difficulties, unavoidable disruptions in seminars, and everything in between; all trivial issues considering the devastating effects of the pandemic on people’s lives. Whilst I appreciate that all of these problems are frustrating when added up, especially if they occur regularly, I don’t think they’re grounds for complaint. When I say complaint, I’m referring to the disgruntled monologue spoken over Discord, the snarky message that appears in the group chat, or the almost imperceptible eye-roll in the middle of a lecture or seminar. We’ve all seen and heard such complaints, and some of us are even guilty of making them, despite how unfair they can be.
I entirely understand students’ general frustration under the current circumstances; we’re paying extortionate amounts of money to go without the full university experience. Yet, in this bleak reality, we still have the opportunity to further our education in what will hopefully only be a temporary blip in our time at York. Unfortunately this is how things are now. Until we come out on the other side – likely to emerge a lot sooner thanks to the government’s recent road-map announcement – students need to learn to adapt and roll with the online-learning punches.
I’m not saying don’t complain at all, obviously in some cases complaints are necessary in order to improve things. What I am saying is that before you do complain, consider whether the issue is really an issue at all, or something you can overlook under the current circumstances. If you can’t overlook it, then speak to a member of staff, give them the opportunity to help. If it’s a more serious complaint, make it formally through the University’s online system. Don’t needlessly whine about it to your peers, because quite frankly, we’re not all interested in hearing it. Those of us who will happily let these trivial problems go over our heads don’t want to listen to endless complaints or mocking comments. It’s unfair and unnecessary. It’s unfair to those students who want to avoid any unnecessary negativity at the moment, and it’s unfair to the lecturers who are working their socks off to help us however they can.
Whilst the torrent of anger and frustration coming from students at the moment is entirely valid, it doesn’t excuse the seemingly blatant ignorance surrounding how our lecturers are feeling. Jasmine Moody, a current undergrad at the University, commented that: “I think with the frustration the pandemic has caused students, it has made some forget that our lecturers and GTAs are struggling too. I am aware that students are paying for a service but we all need to show more empathy, especially during Covid-19”.
Those students who recognise the extra time, energy and effort that our lecturers are putting in at the moment also recognise that we have to put in some extra effort too. Not into work per se, but into exercising compassion and empathy. Our lecturers are currently working full-time, whilst in some cases raising children, doing research, writing and publishing work, and other more general domestic tasks, which, as we all know, take up an equal measure of time and energy. They’re juggling all of this so that they can keep their jobs and help us achieve our academic goals during a pandemic. Perhaps they’d have preferred to have been furloughed instead? Even though they’re all pulling the same shifts as other key workers, they don’t get the same amount of recognition. In fact, they’ve barely had any recognition at all. Maybe it’s about time we gave our lecturers and GTAs a metaphorical pat on the back.
I can only speak from my experience of studying within the department of English and Related Literature when I say that I feel they have gone above and beyond for students this year. The department has held study sessions online and have put on workshops, talks, and other social events. The staff have increased communication significantly, making themselves available outside of seminars and office hours where needed. They’ve provided helpful and compassionate support in spite of their own struggles in lockdown. They’ve helped us in so many different respects, and I don’t need a graph to tell me that the email response time is now faster than it ever was. Obviously there are exceptions; some members of staff, as well as some departments more generally, have undoubtedly been able to adapt to online-learning better than others. Yet this also applies to students, as we’ve all coped with the pandemic in different ways and to varying degrees.
In this sense, our lecturers are not really that different from us – they’re doing the same reading, the same work, the same mind-numbing domestic chores with little variation to daily life. The main difference lies in the fact that they often support us whilst we do all of those things. Our lecturers and supervisors regularly ask us: how are we coping with lockdown? How are we finding the module? Are we managing to stay on top of work? All questions that show how invested they are in our education and wellbeing. Who asks them the same questions?
Maybe some of you do provide support to your peers, be it supporting your friends emotionally or helping other students out academically. However, it’s highly unlikely that this is part of a job. You won’t get assessed on your ability to educate and support a group of students in a pandemic, students who frankly don’t seem to appreciate you or any of the extra work you’ve been putting in.
As a current postgraduate at the University, Lucy Purkis Charters said: “I’m in my fourth year at the Uni and I don’t think I’ve ever felt as supported by my tutors as I do now. Part of this is because until the pandemic I didn’t necessarily need the support, but whenever I reach out for it I feel as though my tutors are doing all they can to prioritise myself or other students who need similar support. Considering that we’re in a pandemic, and I’m sure it can’t be easy for them, I’m very pleased with the quality of support they’re providing us, be it pastoral or academic.”.
In most cases our lecturers are going out of their way to help us, so surely we can help them out too by forgiving any minor issues. Yes, you might have been given some extra work at short notice, but maybe your tutor was busy looking after their child and forgot to send the email. Yes, there might have been consistent technical issues in most of your seminars, but maybe your lecturer has contacted IT about it and can’t do anything more. Yes, your supervisor might not have replied to your email straight away, but they’re doing their best. All of our lecturers and GTAs are doing their best under the circumstances, and that’s really all we can expect of them. I think the least they can expect from us is a little compassion, and the promise that we can forgive them for the minor problems that will naturally occur whilst we study during a pandemic.
Some of these problems, such as technical difficulties, aren’t even anything to do with our lecturers, yet for some reason the fault still gets left at their doorstep. In most cases, excluding one-off mistakes of simple human error, the fault should in fact be assigned to the University in general. If we’re not happy with the current methods of online learning and feel our education is suffering as a consequence, then surely we should complain to YUSU and the University, not our lecturers.
It seems as though a lot of students prefer to shoot the messenger, instead of questioning the ones responsible for making the big decisions about our education. Instead of blaming the only people who seem fully invested in helping and supporting us during the current crisis, why don’t we show a little more compassion, cut our lecturers some slack, and make our worthy complaints to the people on top.
If you would like to make a formal complaint to the University, you can follow this link to view the University’s complaints procedure: https://www.york.ac.uk/about/departments/support-and-admin/sas/complaints/