This past year, all students have had to adapt to new forms of learning in ways that we never could have imagined. While online classes through Zoom should have theoretically given students more flexibility, in reality, it has called into question the impact of hustle culture — a mindset devoted to constantly working at all times. While plans are in motion for Binghamton University students to return to in-person classes for the fall 2021 semester, it’s important that we take a step back to evaluate this yearlong experience of online learning and its impact on how college students in general value education, success and self-worth.
Back in March 2020, most of us were excited about going completely remote for what was expected to be a couple of weeks. The thought of not having to trek across campus in two feet of snow to get to class, or forcing yourself to wake up early for that 8 a.m. class under the fluorescent lights of Lecture Hall was a pleasant change. There were expectations of finally having time to read that one book, find a new hobby or even spend time with family. However, just after a couple of weeks, it was discovered that the online learning environment did not exactly increase productivity or well-being. If anything, it created the problem of not being able to separate personal life from academic life. A year later, it’s clearly seen how online learning has produced so many more instances of burnout, with one 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association finding that those aged 18 to 23 were experiencing significantly more stress than any other age group among U.S. adults. While this uncertainty and stress have amplified the need to return “back to normal” as soon as possible, it does not mean that we have to revert to our old routine of going to class five days a week and spending a mere 48 hours during the weekend trying to maintain a social life, when not completing assignments or studying. The entire world is at this unique point in time where changes can be made in order to improve on what hasn’t worked the best in the past, and this is the time to take advantage of it.
Aside from public health, one major topic up for reevaluation is this hustle culture, particularly among college students. While we are at a time in our lives where we’ve chosen to pursue higher education in order to build a foundation for our future success, it’s just as essential that we remember that a majority of us are still 20-something-year-olds, and we have many years ahead to continue building the life that we desire. While it is absolutely important to dedicate this time to work hard during your college career and take on new responsibilities, the idolization of constantly working and studying to the point of exhaustion has detrimental effects in the long run.
First off, quality does not equal quantity, so spending 18 hours a day checking emails, reading textbooks or rushing to complete assignments does not ensure that the quality of work produced is at the level of which one is fully capable. This leads to the greater issue of burnout, because after a short period of time, it becomes impossible to keep up that unrealistic routine. Burnout is characterized by loss of passion, fatigue, emotional depletion and increased negativity — all of which aren’t exactly hallmarks for being the best student.
Burnout has been a byproduct of hustle culture since way before the pandemic, but this time there’s a chance to address it through the widespread implementation of a four-day school week. The four-day week has several benefits, with evidence supporting increased cost savings, better attendance and increased flexibility. For college students, this would be an ideal system that would allow students more time to pursue interests outside of the classroom. Whether this means taking the time to improve physical health, mental health, engage in community service, spend time with family and friends, pick up a hobby or just taking some time to relax and do nothing, a four-day school week would allow more time for students to focus on their well-being, thus overall decreasing instances of burnout.
While there are many factors to take into account, this is a path worth exploring. The implementation of a four-day week is not likely to be the solution to all causes of student burnout and hustle culture, but it may very well be the start of a culture that starts putting a value on health, productivity and general wellbeing.
Sana Malik is a junior double-majoring in biology and philosophy, politics and law.