The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

Student dies in Boatwright library. Cause of death: homework

I was sitting in the first floor of the library at a computer in the front room, staring at the computer screen. I could see, but nothing was in focus. I couldn't think. I couldn't feel. I couldn't breathe. My heart was racing. I was sweating. And the only thing running through my mind was, "Where should I run if I'm going to throw up?"

Are you feeling anxious reading this? Because I'm feeling anxious again just typing it. What was happening to me, you ask? I was having a panic attack ... about homework.

It's almost laughable. I was feeling physically sick because of something that in the grand scheme of my life's existence does not matter at all. A piece of paper due by 7 a.m., an e-mail with an attachment due by midnight, a problem set due the next morning at 9 a.m. All these things are constantly dictating most of our lives and, subsequently, our happiness.

I want to know why we have so much homework (or in most cases, "busy work") at the University of Richmond. Is it because it better teaches us a craft? A craft that will inevitably get us a high-paying job with which we will be able to live happily ever after? I'm not 100-percent convinced this is our only option.

If having irreverent amounts of homework were the only way for students to learn, then most Europeans would be low on the totem pole of life's successes. This is obviously not true. Europe and many other continents around the world, whose university policies on homework are different from that of the United States, have produced some of the most successful thinkers, inventors and activists the world has ever known.

When I was abroad in Verona, Italy, last semester, I had only one assignment in each of my five classes. More commonly referred to as the final exam, this assignment was cumulative and the only thing standing between me and passing the class. There were no essays, no quizzes, no tests, nothing.

Now some might ask, "Wait a second, so you're telling me that a student, approximately between the ages of 18 and 22, is supposed to retain three months worth of knowledge and then spew it all out at the final exam?"

To that I say, yes, of course. This way of learning not only teaches discipline and work ethic, but it also allows students to have a life. It allows people to go out for a four-hour dinner off campus without feeling guilty or anxious. It allows people to have more time to do the things they love. It gives people the opportunity to bring reading for pleasure back into their lives.

Richmond is infamous for coddling its students. I understand it's done for our benefit, to help us feel secure before we're booted out into the real world. But, like an overbearing mother who wants to protect her 22-year-old ("You'll always be my little girl/boy"), Richmond unintentionally smothers us.

Another argument might be, "If students have been programmed to learn like this, how will they adjust to anything different?" To that I say the ever-popular cliche: It's sink or swim time, my friend. If you can't handle change, you can't handle life. And if you can't handle life, well then, I don't know what to tell you.

All I know is I'm dreading this week, just like I dread every week, for the sole reason that I have a mountain of homework that is piling so high I can barely see the fragments of my life hiding somewhere behind it.

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