Since the beginning of online school, my teachers had typically begun their classes asking students to turn their cameras on. Most left it at that, some added how it is the respectful thing to do, while others mandated our cameras to be on. Because the UO doesn’t have a policy against mandating cameras, teachers are allowed to force students to turn their cameras on.
So up until last week, my face was consistently shown in my Zoom classes. I didn’t have too big of a problem with it, and I didn’t understand the complaints of my peers. I experienced many ups and downs during the pandemic, but I never felt like I needed to turn my camera off. Then, the shit hit the goddamn fan. A series of personal issues in my life hit one by one, and I felt so overwhelmed by my life that I essentially cried non-stop for a week.
When it came time for class, I gave my nose one last good blow and hopped onto Zoom. As soon as the teacher asked how we were all doing, tears the size of Niagara Falls fell down my face, and I made the executive decision to turn my camera off.
A few seconds later, my teacher asked everyone to turn on their cameras to be respectful to their peers. With snot and salty tears cascading down my face, I finally understood the frustration that so many students have told me about. Though most teachers don’t force students to have their cameras on, many pressure students to, and almost all express a preference for it.
I understand why teachers would like to physically see their students in their online classrooms. It must be weird to look out and see a bunch of black screens where they once saw young faces. It probably makes them feel a bit awkward at times. Teachers struggle with teaching blank screens as Carrie Bauer, a teaching assistant at an unnamed state university, wrote: “The struggle is real. I do not enjoy teaching 30 disembodied voices.”
Although some teachers might be struggling with teaching blank screens, students are struggling with their mental health. According to a 2018 study published by the American Psychological Association, 1 in 3 students struggles with mental health issues, a statistic that has likely worsened since the start of the pandemic. If you are dealing with mental health issues and need extra support, the UO Counseling Center has excellent resources for its students.
I can also understand why it would be nice for students to see one another’s faces. Where we used to meet face to face, we now meet with our cameras off in extremely awkward breakout rooms that nobody wants to be in anyway. It strangely feels way harder to communicate with a classmate over Zoom than in person.
With all this in mind, I still don’t think it is fair to pressure students to turn their cameras on. I feel as if a lot of teachers and even students judge students for turning them off and label them as lazy. But there is no way to know why a particular student has their camera off.
Some students could be like me, crying so hard that it would be distracting to other students to have their camera on. Some students could be struggling with their mental health and don’t have the energy to be fully present. Some students may be struggling with their appearance and don’t feel comfortable being seen. Some students might struggle with finding consistent WiFi and privacy. Feeling well and secure enough to turn your camera on is a privilege, and we cannot judge those who choose to keep it off.
We are in the midst of winter term and a pandemic. So to professors and smug students alike, we are all doing our best to take care of ourselves, so just let us do what we gotta do.