Reed: Attendance policies can be detrimental to student mental health, life balance

Chase Reed, Columnist

I’ve been missing class a lot this quarter. Spurred by a toxic combination of taking forever to complete assignments, problems with my attention span and other personal issues — all of which have led to late nights and bleary-eyed mornings — I’ve found it necessary to take time for myself a lot more than usual lately. Unfortunately, while this “me time” has alleviated my lack of sleep and allowed me to catch up on important, high-impact assignments, it’s had the adverse effect of completely tanking my grade in several classes.

For example, Media Construction — a graduation requirement for all Radio, Television and Film students — allocates a maximum of four absences to each student, with each subtracting a certain number of points from their final grade. Any subsequent absence results in an automatic F in the class. I hit my fourth absence last week.

Of course, mistakes like these are the student’s fault. Personally, I had simply slept through the alarm last week. But as a result, I am now skating on thin ice throughout the rest of the quarter to avoid having to take the class again to graduate.

Policies like these are meant to incentivize students who miss class on purpose, blowing off the material completely in their spare time in favor of the more entertaining and social aspects of college. But often, students just need a break from the college grind, with a vicious cycle of waking up, going to class and/or work and returning in the evening faced with a massive pile of assignments that need to be finished by the morning. Students sometimes make the choice to take time for themselves, and attendance policies often punish their inability to handle stress.

Considering the countless other metrics professors use to measure their students’ understanding in a particular class — tests, papers, homework assignments, projects — it’s counterintuitive to include class attendance as a quantification of learning, especially if there are other ways for a proactive student to learn the material on their own.

When I took Introduction to Russian Literature last fall, I found the reading schedule wasn’t conducive for me to adequately follow discussion in class because I’m a slow reader; instead, I read the books at my own pace, often skipping lectures I knew I wouldn’t understand without having read the required pages. Luckily for me, most of the lectures from previous years had been filmed and archived on Canvas, so I effectively received the same information that had been provided to students who attended every week. And since the final grade was based solely on two in-class assessments (in addition to extra credit for participation in discussion sections), I exited the class with a high B and the same amount of knowledge I would have attained attending four hours of lecture every week.

More classes should adopt a similar model, particularly if they provide an overview of class materials online, as is the case with Media Construction. At the end of each class, my professor emails the lecture slides and a brief paragraph summarizing whatever was discussed in class. If it’s within the realm of possibility for a student to rely on these materials to succeed in the class while trying to manage their mental and physical health, then an attendance policy only serves to cause more stress. At the very least, allowing a student to attend a makeup session during office hours to discuss whatever material they missed should be an option for the student to make up lost points.

I’m trying my best to change the way I handle the myriad stressors that invariably rear their heads in a college environment, from setting more time aside during the weekend for big assignments to shortening the time I spend with some of my friends. But until I’m able to find some cure-all for my problems, it looks like I’ll continue to miss out on points that I shouldn’t have to worry about.

Chase Reed is a Communication freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.