Open letter from a #RealCollege Parenting Student to Faculty

Reflections on the 2020–21 academic year and preparing for the fall.

Dearest Professors,

I am writing the following letter to you because I owe you the gift of communicated knowledge.

You have been gracious, understanding, ingenious, and inventive in a time of great uncertainty and upheaval. You have done your very best to pivot, adapt, regroup, and march onward with limited resources in efforts to uphold a nationally acclaimed code of ethics. You have continued your work of preparing, nurturing, and supporting a generation of future social workers, all while juggling your own families’ needs for support and attention in an unprecedented time of global chaos, disease, and death. Social workers will always be the unsung heroes working diligently to break the tide of social calamity and keep us all from drowning. Academic social workers doubly so.

I wish this letter could just be about how much I appreciate you, but it also must be about how I could not continue to engage with you regarding your classes. That is right, I could not do any more work last semester: Not another sub-par paper, not another half-hearted discussion board post, not another choppy Zoom meeting, not another late assignment, and not another phony excuse for why I am late, again.

If the spring were a “normal” semester, I think I would have been able to learn a lot from you. I think I might have even made all As despite my own struggles. You might have even learned something from me, and I would have taught and learned from your other students. I would have earned every minute of those 12 credit hours I sought; and it would have laid a strong foundation for the social worker I aim to be someday soon.

It is not for a lack of your effort or energy or planning or creativity; it is that I just had too many obstacles piling up for me to continue as I should. Those struggles included navigating my own mental illness and generational poverty; but these struggles are exacerbated by pandemic-related obstacles. I faced the loss of my job (and income) without other prospects to replace it, and the added stress of processing grief from this global pandemic. I found myself suddenly in charge of facilitating the educational needs of my three neurodivergent children, which consisted of three to five Zoom meetings per day and a dual-language curriculum that required me to Google Translate every other sentence to interpret and to convey. Add to this the constant emotional labor I engaged in to support my children’s and partner’s emotions to assuage their fear and cultivate their hope in a period of great uncertainty.

Knowing all these things, I awakened each morning with a knot of guilt in my belly, knowing I owed you assignments. I spent each day telling myself maybe I will get to it after my children’s last Zoom meetings of the day and before dinner, or after dinner and before bedtime, or after bedtime and before I collapse asleep myself, or early in the morning before they need breakfast…and each day I disappointed myself constantly. I told myself I would get to it later, but there was never any time or room to focus in my one-bedroom apartment occupied by five people and two pets. I feel like a failure, and an imposter, and like I am letting a lot of people down who have supported me; but I know I just could not do this anymore right now. I did not have it in me.

What does this mean for my grades, or my classes, or my future? I did not know. I wondered: Would you voluntarily drop me from your classes? Would you grade me based on my performance thus far? Would I have to repeat it all again next semester? I do not know, and on the scale of global shutdown, pandemics, and social collapse, it did not matter. I do know, however, that I need to take the next months to focus on my children’s education, all our emotional and mental health, and our financial future. If campus reopens in the fall, I will be there, picking up where I left off, working toward my goals.

In the meantime, please know that I see you, how hard you have worked, and what an amazing job you have done. I have appreciated every moment of kindness and grace you extended, and in its own way, those moments have fed me when I was weak and hungry for human connection and support. Thank you for all you do for us students. Thank you for caring and understanding and giving yourself to our futures. Thank you for the missed family time and personal sacrifices and sleepless nights. Thank you for believing in me.

Wishing you all the best during this exceptional time. See you in the Fall ❤.

Sincerely,

An undergraduate student at University of Missouri St. Louis

For more information on supports for college completion, please check out The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice’s Beyond the Food Pantry guide on how faculty can care for #RealCollege students.