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Can We Help Our College Students Be More Empathetic?Marybeth Bock, MPH
What the holidays will look like this year has been a question resounding through student life this entire semester.
Families feared not spending time together with their on-campus students, and residence life staff questioned the best way to avoid spreading COVID-19 after Thanksgiving break.
My university decided to give students an option: (1) stay within the county for Thanksgiving break and have the opportunity for in-person finals or (2) go home for Thanksgiving and take the last couple weeks completely online.
I decided to stay. If your student did the same, you know that it wasn't an easy decision. I felt that the opportunity to finish the semester in person was greater than knowing I could be home but would have to do my final exams/projects online.
This is the first Thanksgiving break I will spend physically away from my family. Even though we do a video call once a week, I miss them. (Doesn't COVID-19 just make you feel even farther away from your student than you really are?)
If you're celebrating Thanksgiving this year from afar, I hope these recommendations can help you feel close despite the distance.
A virtual celebration doesn't have to stop your traditions. In fact, this year traditions feel more important than ever.
Students have been stressing and doing more work than usual this semester. If your student is like me, Thanksgiving is the first and only break they'll have all fall. Getting to experience something they know happens every year, in a similar fashion, might be just what your student needs to feel relaxed and rejuvenated for finals.
Although I'll be tuning in from more than 1,000 miles away, my mom, dad and brother will still get to dine together in person. We're aiming to maintain as much normalcy in our Thanksgiving meal as we can. In our separate locations, we're cooking the same food we always eat (a challenge for me, since I'm usually not the turkey chef) and will have the meal together via video call.
We'll listen to the same music — an assortment of Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown albums — throughout the meal, either by screen sharing the playlist or listening individually.
Even though COVID-19 precautions are still in place, and in some areas limits on gathering have gotten stricter because of a surge in cases, your student likely has some opportunities to connect with other students who have stayed on or near campus.
If they have a roommate, encourage them to cook dinner together or order food for delivery — or you could arrange to have a holiday meal delivered. Some universities may be offering a festive meal for students with a meal plan or hosting virtual get-togethers. Look into what virtual or in-person opportunities are available for your student to get and stay connected with friends and family members throughout the break.
I've talked to a few students at my university about their plans for Thanksgiving break, and most of them said they'll likely end up doing homework. (Honestly, me too.) I find that it's really difficult to go from what feels like 24/7 work and classes to nothing, and I often fill my time during breaks with things that make me still feel productive.
One of my professors heavily encouraged our class not to do that. Yes, your student may have a lot of final projects or papers to do and, yes, they might get bored. But what my professor reminded us was that there will still be time to do work after Thanksgiving.
If this is the first genuine break your student has had all semester, encourage them to use it as such. Set a goal with them that they won't do homework or check their email until the end of the week. Ask what helps them truly relax, and help them plan time to do it.
Finally, for a little extra pampering, you might mail a care package (tea, snacks, face masks and coloring books are my favorite things to receive).
Thanksgiving is the time for gratitude, but it seems harder this year. It has been really easy for my family and me to get frustrated and angry about the travel restrictions and changes from COVID-19.
However, there's still so much to be grateful for. Acknowledging the people and things that have been positive in your life this year can be a way for you and your student to bond, keep your spirits up, and feel less lonely.
Tell your student what you're grateful for about them, and encourage them not to lose hope for the rest of the semester. Send them a handwritten note or tell them "in person" on a video call. If you find your student feeling unmotivated, ask them to reflect on the positive.
Thanksgiving is unconventional this year, but it is not cancelled. You can still connect with your student from miles away.
Happy Thanksgiving, and I wish your student the best of luck as they finish out the semester!