story | Avani Adhikari and Wisha Jamal, Staff Writers
photo | Peh Yi Lin, Visuals Editor
The Yale-NUS Student Government Senate has announced a resolution to study and address mental health and academic wellness issues on campus. Announced to the student body in the Oct. 8 Town Hall, the resolution follows up on concerns about mental wellness of the student body raised during this year’s first Senate meeting by suggesting a method of quantifying academic stress levels on campus.
In Yale-NUS College, a typical course load worth 20 modular credits is supposed to translate to a 50-hour per week workload. This means that students have an average workload of approximately seven hours a day, not including the time they spend on extracurricular activities and any other social commitments. Consequently, students have repeatedly raised concerns regarding heavy academic and extra-curricular workloads.
Other concerns mentioned in the Senate’s Town Hall presentation include the lack of direct student-faculty communication involved in workload moderation, and over-working. The presentation noted that the faculty currently receive most of their feedback indirectly via end-of-semester surveys, and that the administration does not have access to the anecdotal evidence gathered by the Senate.
The Senate said that based on this end-of-semester survey data, the administration has argued that academic stress is not a major issue. Coupled with a desire to uphold the standards of academic rigor at Yale-NUS College, the administration has little interest in directly reducing academic workload.
However, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) and acting Dean of Students Joanne Roberts disagreed with the Senate’s account of the position of college administration. “I totally think that stress an issue.” she said. “When I look at the end-of-semester surveys, students list issues of time management, issues of having too many events, issues of stress [and] competitiveness — we see patterns in the data. It’s all concerning to me.
According to the Senate presentation, students have argued that the administration’s current means of gathering feedback may not be able to accurately reflect academic stress levels because of the time window of course evaluations. Since the survey is conducted near the end of the semester along with many other campus surveys, there is a concern that students may not give accurate answers due to survey fatigue or general disinterest.
Experiences of academic stress may also vary across students due to different majors and academic backgrounds which may affect the result.
Senate Speaker Jiang Haolie ’21 said that this inconsistency has often served as a hurdle between both parties with regard to academic standardization reform. Recommendations and strategies for managing academic wellness by the Wellness Committee have been restrained due to the lack of consensus. It is also difficult to gauge whether the stress is due to academic workload or due to over-commitment to extracurricular activities.
The current resolution by the Senate seeks to conduct a qualitative data gathering exercise that will more definitively gauge student opinions on the issue. The resolution intends to make structural changes to end-of-semester surveys, including moving them to an earlier date. It encourages the executive branch to “conduct these surveys mandatorily” and more frequently in hopes of improving the academic situation by providing the faculty with more frequent updates.
The resolution also seeks clarification regarding the way Dean of Faculty Office responds to complaints in end-of-semester surveys, suggesting the Office to include corroboration on class-wide response on teaching practices.
By building “norms of healthy, effective and direct student-faculty communication”, the resolution seeks to evaluate the academic rigour of Yale-NUS in comparison to other institutions, with the ultimate goal of the resolution being an assurance that the survey is capable of making effective changes and bringing everyone to the same table.
Ms. Roberts said that ultimately, students are often stressed because they strive for perfection. “I think what we need is a bit of a culture shift. A culture where it’s okay [to not be perfect]. This is a great aspiration, and I don’t want to belittle it; but most people in university aren’t perfect.”
Beyond the topic of academic stress, the Town Hall also included updates from the Student Government Council on other new initiatives, including the possibility of 24/7 access to the Printing Top-Up kiosks. Currently, the kiosks cannot be accessed after office hours, making it troublesome for students who want to top-up their cards later in the evening.
Because of this, the Educational, Resources and Technology department
(ERT) plans on transferring the kiosks to areas where they can be accessed 24/7—hopefully by January according to the Student Government Council. As ERT is holding a tender for new vendors, they are also exploring the possibility of an online top-up system as it is offered by one of the potential vendors.
The Student Government also decided to adopt practices to increase the sustainability of campus events. Currently, the success and reception of campus events depend heavily on the initiative of the organizing committee, with many turning out to be one-off events.
Other initiatives highlighted at the Town Hall include a new gym etiquette, end-of-semester shuttle bus services to the airport, and improvements in summer storage for students.
Ed: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Senate’s resolution intended to make structural changes to the end-of-year surveys. This has been corrected to refer to end-of-semester surveys. The earlier version also implied that the Council was in charge of changes to the printing top-up kiosks. This has been updated to clarify that the Education, Resources and Technology (ERT) department is responsible for the changes.