Students commit a lot of time to academic obligations, so when family emergencies arise, the expectation is that professors will be understanding. Rossen explores his thoughts on professor responses to these emergencies. - Photo via

Full-time students at Rowan University could be spending anywhere between 12 and 24 hours a week sitting in class. Time spent on homework for those classes could bring that number as high as 30 hours or more. During this pandemic, in order to stay financially afloat, many of us have also taken on part-time or full-time jobs on top of that.

In order to fulfill that commitment, we make sacrifices: time spent in class or at work is time away from our families and those who matter most to us. Like so many students and working adults, we make those sacrifices readily, but we make them with the hope that in moments of loss and mourning when our families need us most, our professors will understand and give us the time we need. 

When I learned that a peer and classmate was sent an email by their professor which declined to give them the extension they requested for an essay that would be due for them to complete while their grandmother was in hospice, her condition all but terminal, I was appalled. The student had to fight this decision every way they could until their professor agreed to give them the time they needed to heal.

It should never have taken those extra steps.

Students deserve better than that. Why is it that, when a student emails to report a family emergency, professors are reluctant to give them the accommodations they request?

Students who find themselves in these unthinkable situations have to fight through their grief and their anxiety to beg, before judge and jury, for accommodations that should be automatic.

Emailing every one of your professors is a strenuous enough task to be expected of students in the face of family tragedies. You type email after email, with grief weighing you down like an anchor, while you wonder if you will be heard and understood.

In our lowest moments, we students count on our professors more than they may know. The last thing a grieving student needs to hear is that they still have to worry about getting their homework in on time or preparing for the next exam, while they have to also worry about healing and consoling their families and saying goodbye to a loved one.

If you are a professor talking to a grieving student, it’s important to understand how unsupportive responses can be detrimental for their mental health. We don’t ask much. We don’t expect our professors to tell us how to grieve, or how to navigate our pain — and in truth it’s better to understand that everyone grieves in their own way anyway.

We just need our professors to assure us, unequivocally and overtly, that we do not need to worry about our grades, our next exam or getting assignments in, while we mourn loved ones. This, and only this, is what it comes down to.

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