Professors must respect individualized needs

By Rosalie Zuckermann

First and foremost, this is not a response to any event that has happened over this semester and this is not an attack at any specific professor. I am expressing my frustrations at the difficult situation, the expectations with accommodations within a classroom setting, that many of us are put in and many more than me have expressed their frustrations at as well. Please do not take this as a passive aggressive way of me saying that I do not appreciate the work my professors, along with others, have done. I understand that they do try their best. 

This past year, I finally got accommodations for my classes. I thank the Office of Student Accessibility (OSA) for taking the time to hear me out personally and working with me to establish goals and expectations for my academic needs. They include things like being able to step out of class to take medication with food when needed and allowing extra time to do assignments and miss class, if necessary. 

Because OSA is unable to make a set rule for all classes, I needed to talk to my professors individually on what these accommodations looked like in their class. This is where I started having issues. 

While I am perfectly aware that there are the rare few students who will look at these accommodations as a “free pass” to start skipping classes whenever they want to, but you cannot make a sweeping generalization to the rest of us. 

I am aware that our disabilities might make it harder for us to participate in classes like the average student would, but that does not mean that we are using them to get special privileges just because we can. 

There is a reason we have accommodations and we should not have to explain that. For the sake of my argument, I will disclose my disability of my own volition. I have serious chest and back pains that, on bad days, make it hard for me to breathe and move around. On these days, especially when I am doing projects and essays and studying for midterms, I will need to take necessary breaks and that can mean resting up in my bed and missing my 9 a.m. class or taking an extra day to do that one big essay that requires hours of research and reading. 

For me, this problem has made it so that professors who are willing to be lenient with me are the ones getting the short end of the stick. Because of professors who are unwilling to allow an extra absence for me, I am forced to miss a different one with a professor who does provide this accommodation for me. This is not only unfair for me, but for other professors as well, ones who are truly trying their hardest to be more accepting. I should not have to ration the days when I allow myself to be sick or hurt. 

Now, I am aware that, despite this, I am responsible for my own decisions and sometimes work too much, causing my own pain. This is not what I am necessarily talking about. It is when professors do not allow extensions or leniency with attendance because “class is just so important.” I know it is. I know lectures and discussions are important. I know my peers are relying on me for feedback. That is just what college is. 

I am a senior and I know very well what it is like to fall behind in a class. If I am staying on track or even ahead in my studies, assignments and group projects — if you can acknowledge that I am engaging in class discussions, then why is it still an issue if I cannot get out of bed today? The alternative is to sit in on a class where I am so tired or I am in so much pain that my eyes will not focus. A class I am not paying attention to is a wasted class. 

My peers are always willing to work around my schedule and around my disability because they know how hard it is and they want me to get better before it gets too bad. At one point during the semester, several other students had to kick me out of class because I tried to attend when I had the flu. I did not feel like I had any other choice. 

In addition, there are those whose mental health prevents them from participation. There is a wider issue of mental health where, while we may be able to physically pull ourselves out of bed, it is impossible for us to focus because of our depression or burnout. 

So please, all I am asking for is a consideration of us students who may have accommodations that look different and who might have needs that go beyond what you feel is comfortable for your expectations for me within the classroom. I know it is so much easier to provide for students that only need accommodations such as having a computer in class or extra time on an exam. 

I know there are people who will abuse it. There always will be. But applying that fear to all of us who may have necessary requirements for our own health is selfish and stubborn. I truly love and respect all of my professors, but my health is not negotiable. 

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