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UNC asks faculty to pause classes for a mental health day following student petition


DTH Photo Illustration. Things like social distancing and online classes take a toll on mental health, so many UNC students have turned to activities like yoga, exercise, as well as UNC's CAPS office for help.

The Office of the Chancellor is asking faculty to pause instruction on Friday in observance of World Mental Health Day on Saturday. This announcement comes after students created a petition calling for a day off before the end of the semester. 

Katie Horn, a senior environmental science major, first created the petition on last week. The petition received over 3,000 signatures. 

“It’s been super rough, to be honest,” Horn said, describing her experience with remote learning. “We sit all day in front of the computer, and then we get assigned to work and we have to sit in front of the computer even more.” 

Horn said she and her friends initially shared the petition across Facebook groups and sent it to their friends. The next day, they sent the link in their class GroupMe and Zoom chats. 

“One of my professors was like, ‘OK, this is kind of weird that I’m supporting this, but I actually really like this petition,’” she said. 

After creating the petition, Horn said she called the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost and the Office of the Dean of Students, hoping to assess the likelihood of students’ requests being answered. 

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced the upcoming pause in classes in a campuswide email on Oct. 1.

"Taking care of our mental health is paramount during these extraordinary times. We all must attend to all aspects of wellness, recognize the necessity for individuals to exercise agency when and where they can and encourage as much flexibility as possible," Guskiewicz said in the email. 

Guskiewicz said although the compressed academic calendar does not permit a day off, the pause instruction may allow faculty to change a live lecture to a recorded one, postpone a due date or reschedule a quiz.

Tarini Agrawal, a sophomore pre-business major, was one of the signers of Horn's petition. She said one word to describe the semester is "overwhelming."

“It’s important to me because I think that everyone is struggling a little bit more mentally through COVID, and having online classes without a break isn’t helping,” Agrawal said. “Having a day off I think would benefit every student.”

Carly Rauch, a first-year biomedical and health sciences engineering major, also signed the petition.

“It honestly has been kind of a lot with no breaks,” Rauch said. “I feel like especially the freshmen, you know, we’re all adjusting to college classes and we don’t really have the time to kind of adjust, because we are having to do so much and the classes are continuing on so quickly.”

With the recent announcement of a pause in instruction, Horn said she is shocked and proud of herself and of all the students that signed and shared the petition.

“We can continue to do things like this,” Horn said. “It doesn't have to be just the mental health day. We can like, change student dynamics at the school, make bigger changes in the world. We just have to put our minds to it. And to me, this just shows like, on the small scale, we can do it, so why not on the big scale?”

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