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The homework problem

Confronting the realities of mentally taxing homework culture

On Sunday night, before the beginning of winter semester, I lay awake in bed for what felt like hours. With five lectures to attend and readings to cater to, I already felt behind. I was overwhelmed – finals were just a moment ago but all of a sudden I already had more readings to do, more poems to unravel and more political theories to memorize. Alas, what is university if one doesn’t find themselves panicking over the terrifying pile of books sitting on their desk?

For the purpose of writing this article, I asked a few of my friends, across a host of different majors and faculties, approximately how many pages of readings they had per week. One friend had around one hundred and twenty-five per week, another had around two hundred and fifty, a friend in Science had a hundred while a friend studying Chemistry and Political Science had around two hundred. As for myself, I have to read a novel, a play, a short book and hundreds of pages of information about political theory every week, which comes up to approximately seven hundred pages of entirely new information I am expected to remember inside out.

You get the picture. College students have a lot of work to do. While some may not have as many readings as others, they make up for it with grueling, never-ending labs, surprise quizzes, and of course, essays upon essays to write. To put it simply, nobody has it easy. This creates a sense of community and brings people closer together – it is okay that you can’t go out today because neither can your friends, it is perfectly fine that you just barely passed that quiz after not leaving your room for days because everyone else just barely passed as well, it is no problem that you have forgotten how long you have been in this library trying your hardest to cram seemingly irrelevant information into your mind because everybody else is in the same boat as you.

But that’s the thing – no matter how much we try, we can’t seem to normalize the toxicity that surrounds the unfair amount of work universities expect students to complete weekly. This is not just McGill’s problem; the same, if not more, can be said for higher education institutions across the globe. To an extent, this constant pressure is good for preparing students before they are cannonballed into the reality of being a working adult in a potentially corporate environment. But on the other hand, one cannot help but wonder, how much can you really learn while under this stress?
Perhaps it’s just me, but having to read and retain information while an invisible clock ticks away, aggressively indicating that I am constantly losing precious studying time, does not exactly make for the most ideal environment.

In the summer, I read upwards of ten novels. I remember details vividly, I can recite quotes from memory, I smile every time a character I like is mentioned, it warms me inside to see something that reminds me of one of the novels. That’s just the thing about reading for leisure. It creates an environment where you are able to read without the constant stress of having to be tested on it later – I miss that feeling.

In college, you have to do much more than readings. You have to maintain your GPA, you have to be sociable; sometimes you even have the added stress of some form of employment. The question here is simple – where does mental health come in? How do you stay sane in an environment that demands you to work every passing moment, that distributes pamphlets about the importance of mental health but fails to give you even a second to inhale, exhale, take it all in? Where does the learning end and the pressure begin? When does friendship become irrelevant, to be replaced with intense competition? They tell you that you can ask for help, take a bubble bath, or kick back with some Netflix, but it will never be enough to calm the anxiety that will surface when you realize even the action of de-stressing has only augmented your stress levels.