5th week free: campaign for a reading week at Oxford
Testimonial: 3rd year English Student, Lucy Delaney
I have spent the best part of my three years at Oxford clinging onto my degree by my fingernails. I had a successful first term, but thereafter felt myself churning out two essays a week without even taking the time to stop and breathe. I found myself not ‘being’ or ‘managing’ or even thinking but simply ‘coping’.
On a number of occasions there were three essays due within the space of a week. Every marked essay returned to me criticised my lack of in-depth thought, lack of original ideas and my sweeping generalisations. But what else could I have achieved with only a couple of days work allowed per essay? Moreover, there was no time to catch up if I fell behind early on in term, and the holidays were spent attempting to get through the endless reading lists for the next term’s work, so there was no time to improve past work.
One of my tutors was ruthless and unforgiving, the other sympathetic – but even with the patience and understanding of my sympathetic tutor, I still felt constant guilt that I couldn’t just ‘start again’ and magically improve. If I was granted an extension of a couple of days, it would overlap into the time needed to work on my next assignment and I would still sometimes fail to hand it in on time, and occasionally I found myself feeling unable to submit work at all or attend some tutorials due to my guilt and fear, which then caused a vicious cycle of guilt and not-working out of guilt for not-working. I desperately needed a few days or a week without the pressure of encroaching deadlines to be able to think clearly and without the nauseating feeling of guilt and failure.
The impact upon my mental health was appalling. In my second year I developed anxiety and depression and lapsed back into my eating disorder. I could barely get out of bed some days for fear of the growing mountains of work. There was just no space to be able to clear my head and even making appointments with welfare or counselling took up too much time and I often ended up missing them, which, again, led to further guilt.
When it came to finals revision, I was faced with huge amounts of mediocre notes, which forced me to re-do almost everything I’d ever done in the space of a couple of months. I barely slept during the week of my final exams. It would have been far more effective to have had fewer essays of higher quality to revise from. A break in fifth week would therefore not jeopardise the course and risk skimping out on material – it would enable students to consolidate existing work or get rested in order to tackle the second half of the term’s work with renewed vigour. Instead, I found myself utterly burnt out by 5th or 6th week, and could barely stay awake throughout 8th.
I don’t regret coming to Oxford – but it has come at serious mental and physical cost. We shouldn’t have to be constantly ‘coping’. All of the emails we receive from welfare after 5th week congratulate us on ‘getting through’ 5th week. But we shouldn’t have to be ‘getting through’ anything. We should be thriving and be taking the time to think and relax, to work at a reasonable pace and to catch-up if need be, to see friends and family, and we should be able to physically or mentally leave the Oxford bubble without feeling like we’ve put our futures at risk.