Adapting to hybrid learning is a privilege

As+someone+who+struggles+with+mental+illnesses+myself%2C+I+can+say+with+complete+conviction+this+hybrid+learning+model+has+been+detrimental+to+my+health.

Photo: Courtesy of Wikicommons

As someone who struggles with mental illnesses myself, I can say with complete conviction this hybrid learning model has been detrimental to my health.

By Lucia Thorne, Assistant Living Arts Editor

Trigger warning: This op-ed discusses topics related to mental illness.

After a year of experimenting with new forms of learning in an attempt to simulate an in-person experience, it is quite evident that nothing compares to traditional in-person learning. 

Even at the beginning of a nationwide shutdown last March, it became painfully clear that the childcare, food security, and learning disability accommodations available because of in-person education were now absent, much like the seats in every classroom. 

College students have the advantage of age and independence, and therefore we suffer less at the hands of the pandemic’s effects on our education, and the development of our social skills. 

However, the hybrid learning model does hinder our ability to get the education we hoped to receive when applying to institutions like Emerson– which are more likely to possess the funding to be able to provide a modified in-person education during the pandemic.

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Unfortunately, the modifications made to deal with the potential spread of COVID-19 did not take into account the challenges for mentally ill and neurodivergent students. 

Sophomore Kelsey Callahan shifted to completely online learning after her experience with hybrid learning as a neurodivergent student who also has severe anxiety during the fall 2020 semester. 

“Personally, I need consistency to function, and I need to know what’s happening,” Callahan said. “I don’t like things changing that much. I know that [the hybrid learning model] works for some people, but I know for a lot of neurodivergent and mentally ill students, it’s kind of like there’s a lot of lack of consistency.” 

The switch from online to in-person each day became too overwhelming for Callahan, leading her to choose a semester online. Callahan said this option ended up working best for her, aside from the three-hour time difference between Boston and California.

Hybrid learning also posed another challenge for Callahan: receiving and fully utilizing disability accommodations. Her experience with group work using breakout rooms along with the challenge of learning entirely online has only become more difficult. 

“Group work honestly got worse,” Callahan said.  “I struggled with that a lot in high school. Most of my teachers gave me the individual accommodation of working by myself. But when you’re working over breakout rooms, that’s nearly impossible to do.”   

Emerson first-year student Zack Reichgut, who has ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder, said he finds it easier to participate in online schooling since there is less pressure in presenting yourself to classmates and professors. 

“It’s just easier for me because I can stay in my room, I don’t need to look nice, I can eat while I’m learning,” Reichgut said. “It’s sometimes easier for me to pay attention when I’m just in my bed listening to it like it’s a podcast.”  

As someone who struggles with mental illnesses myself, I can say with complete conviction this hybrid learning model has been detrimental to my health. When I first started writing this op-ed, I thought that I liked the learning model for the same reasons Zack mentioned. But I realized it was not me who liked it, but my mental illnesses. 

I suffer from anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. My OCD has progressively worsened throughout the course of the pandemic, however, I first viewed it as a blessing in disguise. Because of my compulsions, I have been hypervigilant about washing my hands, cleaning surfaces, and keeping a mask on at all possible times, and therefore, I have not contracted or spread COVID-19. 

But at that time, I was still in my hometown of Agoura Hills, California, only going out about once a week to get groceries or an iced tea from my local McDonald’s. Now, I’m living in Boston, going out almost daily and living in a building with people (and their sanitary habits) I don’t know. 

That fear of the unknown regarding my neighbors and classmates COVID habits leads me to clean everything I have on me every time I leave my dorm. The compulsions become so intense that sometimes I don’t leave my dorm or go to class because I’m so tired of cleaning. 

If I have class every single day in-person, I will lose all my motivation, as well as my mind, by trying to keep up with my mental illness. But I also realize that by staying in so often, I am feeding into my own depression. 

I just recently started going out once a day again, and this past week was the first time I had more than one meal a day in about two months. I finally don’t need to clean as often because of updated treatment for my mental illnesses, but my awareness of the virus around me has not left my mind. 

For me, being either all in-person or all online is not an option during this time, because one way or the other, one of my mental illnesses will get the best of me, and hybrid learning is the only thing keeping me from going too far in one direction. But for others, like Kelsey and Zack, hybrid learning is not the best option. And that’s okay, because we are all individuals. But it’s time the education system starts to treat us as such. 

The hybrid learning model has highlighted two major issues within our education system: lack of consistent scheduling and impersonalized, cookie-cutter-like curriculum. Students shouldn’t feel so overwhelmed by school in a time like this.