As usual, I’m a prophet of sorts when predicting things going wrong at this institution. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the first article I ever wrote for the Review, which focused on Oberlin’s shortcomings on student mental health back in Oct. 2020. In part, I wrote about the fortitude needed for students to take extra time out of their already busy schedules for self-care. At the time, life as a student and as a Black person in the United States seemed bleak even without additional stressors — and I didn’t anticipate things getting any better. Life seems far more exhausting now with additional extracurriculars, meetings, and attempts to be social while dealing with depression and anxiety. Nearly eight months later, not much has changed, even over Juneteenth weekend.
On June 17 this year, Juneteenth was signed into law as a federal holiday by President Biden. I have several thoughts, and extreme reservations, about this holiday being commodified and commercialized in a similar manner to the Black Lives Matter movement. For now I’ll simply say that true freedom will never come from a renamed street, merchandise, or other examples of performative activism. Despite these concerns, let’s hypothetically say that I’m willing to endorse Juneteenth in its new capitalistic form. At the bare minimum, I expect Oberlin to give me the time and space to commemorate the holiday in whatever capacity I choose. After all, it’s hard for me or anyone else to celebrate properly with a mountain of stress and work.
Unfortunately, the reality of my weekend was feeling overwhelmed with stress while frantically trying to finish assignments. First of all, the week leading up to Juneteenth was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. I had three classes and three meetings that Wednesday, June 16, and the trend did not improve much by Thursday. I still had three meetings with a slight improvement of two courses that day, and by Friday, I knew something needed to change. I was exhausted, anxious and did not have the energy to do three more courses and a paper — among many other responsibilities. Thankfully, I managed to recognize my limits early that day and adjusted my plans quickly. Being completely transparent about my stress level and quick burnout from my personal life and overcommitments, I emailed my professor for my third Friday class. Thankfully, this ended very well, and I received a wholesome and thoughtful response allowing me extensions and an absence from class that day. I appreciated this kindness and encourage other professors to understand the needs of students during a hectic semester.
I managed to take back the day and make it something worthwhile. I decided not to do any work after 4 p.m. and spent the rest of the day hanging out with friends, watching TV, dancing, and just having my own good time. I went to a handful of Juneteenth events, but I enjoyed most of the time in solitude or with close friends, recharging my batteries. By the end of the day, I was tired, as usual, but in the best way. My weariness was from a long but balanced day where I prioritized myself for once. Despite how revolutionary this day of relaxation may seem, it should be the bare minimum that I get throughout my time in college. Its rarity during the COVID-19 semesters explains a lot about the collective burnout felt by students and faculty alike.
On Saturday, I did no school work at all and took the entire day for myself. This was not even intentional, as I had planned to get a bit of work done; instead, I had a great day hanging out with my small but reliable crew of friends. In typical Oberlin fashion, however, good times like this are not meant to last. Because I took a fraction of the time I needed to recover, I now had too many readings and several papers to complete. Against all odds, I managed to complete most of these tasks, which was only possible because of the time off that I took.
While I’m writing this, I’m waiting to go home tomorrow and begin a slightly longer rest period. Two of my classes also have next week off, so I’m hopeful that professors are being understanding. Although I’m looking forward to my time at home and the upcoming days without classes, I also wish it wasn’t the last break of the entire semester.