If you’re reading this, know that I believe you.
As an instructor at UVA, I want to accommodate you so that you can do your best. I don’t expect you to be perfect, but I do want you to feel safe exploring new ideas, developing new skills, and learning about yourself. So, I tell you from the start that I understand how much mental health can impact your academic career. I ask you to reach out if you’re struggling and need more flexibility. I don’t blame you if you’re scared to ask, though. I wish more instructors acknowledged chronic illnesses and mental health issues in their course policies.
It might be hard to remember this sometimes, but your instructors are just mere mortals who also struggle with their mental health, doubt themselves, and binge-watch shows. Trust me. I watched the entire Gossip Girl series in a matter of weeks when I should have been grading your papers and finishing an article. I will also let you in on an open secret. Academics blow deadlines all. the. time. They ask for extensions and usually get them from publishers or conference panel organizers. We know the stress of a looming due date when there’s simply too much to do. While following through on time is important and a matter of courtesy, I also understand that sometimes people need extensions.
In the United States, we live in a culture where productivity defines a person’s worth. Students are understandably afraid to take risks because they feel the pressure to do everything perfectly, even when they’re trying something totally new. Look, I get it. The stakes are high. You’re worried about getting into a postgraduate program or even finding employment at all. Everyone should have the privilege of pursuing their passions. No one should have to worry about whether they are going to have health insurance or enough money to pay rent and eat. For what it’s worth, I believe you are inherently valuable. You are also valuable to your community of loved ones – whether they are your family (chosen or not), friends, and peers.
The world has historically been and continues to be a dangerous place for many people. Despite what some might say, college campuses are, in many ways, no respite from the real world. What we witnessed and experienced on August 11, 2017 is a prime example of that fact. I started my first semester teaching at UVA that same month and have since then observed the brilliance and tenacity of college students who are working together to effect radical social change.
To every student who is living with the trauma from August 11 and 12, 2017,
To every student who has survived any form of sexual abuse,
To every student who knows what it’s like to not be rich,
To every student who is questioning their sexuality and/or gender identity,
To every student who has been targeted because of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or religion,
To every student who is living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, including mental health issues,
I see you and believe you.
All of this is to say, you are not alone.