Finding Time to Say ‘Yes’

BY SHELBY PAULGAARD / EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

As a fourth year student, I have found it so interesting–and sad–to look back at the past few years at Augustana and see how much has changed. Everyone who entered university in the last four years will have some sort of crazy story about how their schooling was impacted by Covid-19 to share one day, when it isn’t so fresh in our minds. Some of us started and will (hopefully!) end our degrees completely normally, but we lost a lot of ground in those middle years. Some of us started online, or took a year off to try and avoid it. Some of us switched from online to in person what felt like 50 times over the course of four years. As much as life feels ‘back to normal’ now, I think we are all still feeling the reverberations of the past few years. 

With an increasing number of people getting sick on campus, with Covid or just the flu, I’m being taken back to the past two fall and winter seasons, when numbers shot up and we slunk back into lockdown. Thinking about it now makes me nervous. As much as I want to believe that we may finally be ‘back to normal,’ I’m having a hard time accepting it. 

The burnout at this part of the semester is always bad, so maybe I am just overwhelmed by the work piling up as usual. But I think this year is different. After so much back and forth from real classrooms to breakout rooms, I don’t trust that we can make it a full academic year without our classes being yanked and our homework becoming a 24/7 condition. The stress of a normal academic and working schedule feels even more tiresome when you add the constant worry that your last year for any of it could be taken away at any time. Not to mention also finding time to apply to after-degrees, graduate schools, jobs for after school, and scholarships. 

Despite all of this, it is hard to not appreciate the little joys of being on campus again: the sound of laughter filling the forum, squeezing a chair into a packed table at the library to study with friends, grabbing a coffee and a sandwich at Monica’s as a reward for writing a midterm (or for making it to your 8:30am class). All of these little things I never thought I’d miss remind me to be grateful for what we do have now, and to make the most of whatever it is we have to look forward to. I think we will all be struggling from the effects of the pandemic for a long, long time, but we might as well make the most of the bits of joy we get to have during these difficult few years.

Since Covid has been tamed enough to allow us to leave our houses again, I have been trying to say yes as much as I can. Yes, I will take a weekend trip to the mountains even when I should be studying. Yes, I will go out to dinner with friends, even if I have an assignment due at midnight. Yes, I will agree to edit the student newspaper, even though I constantly complain about being too busy. After all, who knows where we will all end up when we’re done at Augustana? These few years are the only years we get where we will all be in the same place at the same time. And if a pandemic is going to take it all away again, I don’t want to say I spent that fraction of time when we weren’t required to social distance, well, social distancing. As much as I’d like to dwell on the worry of how the rest of this year will turn out for us, I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that regardless, I only have one year left. I could spend it worrying, or I could spend it saying yes for as long as I can. I hope this year can be full of all of the ‘Yes’ we’ve been missing out on for far too long.

Finding Hope in the Age of COVID

ERIC ANDERSSON / EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Well, the 3-week term is behind us, and the 11-week term is now underway.  Outside, the leaves are changing, and if you step outside at night you can feel the first nip of winter, which is of course just a prelude to the big November-February freeze.  Students everywhere are now sitting down, looking at their already Hydra-esque “to do” list, and are wondering just what in the world they’ve gotten themselves into.

            Yes, in many ways, 2020-21 is shaping up to be a typical school year.  No one can deny, though, that a lot is different this year, too.  Campus, usually a bustling of hub of activity during the 11-week, is empty now, almost cavernous.  It might not be quite as weird for the first-years on campus right now (though I’m guessing it’s probably still pretty weird to see a school building so empty), but for the rest of us who either can’t be on campus because we live too far away, or who have been there and seen how unnaturally empty it is…it’s pretty overwhelming.

            And it gets even more overwhelming when you think about why it’s this way.

            COVID-19.  The novel coronavirus that’s disrupted pretty much everyone’s lives, made a lot of our lives significantly worse, and has even ended a staggering number of lives.  It’s been more than six months now since COVID-19 first shut down the province (taking in-person classes with it), and there’s still no sign of it going away.  In fact, public health officials have warned that, now that schools are open, we could be heading straight for a staggering second wave.

            With all this in mind, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  It’s easy to feel like there’s no hope.  It’s easy to feel like this pandemic, the worst public health crisis the world has faced in a century, will never end.

            However, there are some reasons to hope.  Every day that passes brings us closer to a viable vaccine; there are multiple different vaccines going through clinical trials right now.  Social distancing regulations have done a great job slowing down the virus; go take a look at where the curve was headed late last April, when we hit our peak cases here in Alberta, and then take a look at how flat the curve has remained since then.

            And then there’s the simple fact that, despite how much COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, we still have lives to lead.  That, in and of itself, is a blessing.  And, for the vast majority of you reading this right now, those lives will still have a future.  The vast majority of us still have a career, graduate studies, or some other “next step” on the horizon.

            I’m confident that, if we keep taking it one day at a time, and keep in mind the brighter, pandemic-free future that’s sure to be on the horizon, we can get through this.  We may have more dark days ahead of us, but I also believe that every day that passes brings us closer to the light.

            In the meantime, let’s all do our best to have a great year…or at least as great as circumstances will allow.

Grade Us Next Year…Please?

BY ERIC ANDERSSON

Well, this has been an interesting semester, hasn’t it?

I don’t think anyone could have predicted the crazy turn this term took last month, when the emerging COVID-19 pandemic forced universities around the world to shut their doors and move their classes online.  It was a crazy time full of fear and anxiety, a time where nobody really knew what was going to happen.

Of course, we still don’t really know what’s going to happen; the way this pandemic has so radically changed our day-to-day lives is proof enough of that.  It’s been more than a month now since in-person classes were canned, but we’re still getting news almost daily from the government, from the U of A, from the City of Camrose…these are crazy times we’re living in, that much is for sure.

But with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently speculating it could be weeks – even months – before the stringent health protocols in place around the country are lightened, it makes a person wonder…is this going to be how we do classes next year, too?  Are we going to have to meet through video chat not just for the last remnants of this semester, but for all of next year as well?

I don’t think any of us want to see that happen.  But with how quickly and unpredictably the COVID-19 situation has evolved, it’s a distinct possibility at this point.  And if it does, I have just one thing to ask the administrators down at the U of A.

Please…please…give us back our grades.

As you surely already know, the U of A moved to a Credit/Non-Credit grading system for this semester.  As a temporary measure, this is fine.  Would I have preferred to have letter grades this semester?  Yes, of course.  But with the way the COVID-19 situation escalated so quickly, with how promptly our government and our university had to take action to flatten the curve, the CR/NC system was probably the best the U of A could do on such short notice.

However, I don’t believe the CR/NC system is sustainable long-term.  For one thing, many students (including myself) are graduating next year; for those of us graduating, and especially for those of us who want to go on to another program after next year (like me!), having a year and a half of no grades on our transcript might be a problem.  One semester isn’t so hard to overlook, but three?  That’s a pretty big gap in our transcripts.

Another reason a return to letter grades is a must for next year is student performance.  I know I found it much harder to stay motivated in my studies without a letter grade to work toward, and most of the people I’ve talked to in the past month feel the same way.  When getting a C on a major essay means your chances at an A grade decrease dramatically, it motivates students to keep up with their studies and turn in the best work they can.  When all they’ve got to do is show up, though, it tells students they don’t have to do their best work.  They can coast, take the C, and still get a CR on their transcript.

Now, obviously, there are exceptions to this.  The U of A has said they’ll work with professors to provide evidence of excellence in their field for students who are applying to highly competitive programs.  That’s great.  But going forward, we need some kind of a return to normalcy.  And if we can’t gather with one another in class next year, well…in that case, I have just one request to make.

Please, please give us back our grades.

WHEN LIFE GETS IN THE WAY

BY ERIC ANDERSSON

Six years ago today, during my very first year at Augustana, one of my high school friends committed suicide.

The news blindsided me; I still remember getting up the morning after it happened, eating breakfast, taking a shower, brushing my teeth, going through my morning routine as if everything was normal.  I still remember sitting down on my bed, scrolling through my Facebook feed, killing time before I had to go to class…and then finding out, from a simple post on Facebook, that my friend was gone.

It was overwhelming.  I didn’t know what to do.  This was the first time I’d lost someone even remotely close; I didn’t have the slightest clue how to move forward having heard news like this.  I’d never felt so empty, so powerless, so alone.

And you want to know what else?  I had a math midterm to write that morning.  Before I’d had any time to process the news, to even step out of my shell-shock and begin working through my grief, I had to go to the school and write a midterm.

I actually did well on that midterm, all things considered (I got a B+, if I remember right).  But I should not have been there writing that midterm; there was no way I could have done as well as I could on that test considering the circumstances.  Perhaps, because I got the news of my friend’s death so soon before the test was scheduled, I thought it was too late to change anything, too late to talk with my prof and arrange to write the midterm at a different time.  However, what I didn’t fully realize then (and am definitely more aware of now) is that our profs are generally quite willing to make concessions for extreme circumstances.  Getting the sniffles or sleeping in too late are legitimately bad reasons to ask to write a test a different day.  Just finding out your friend died, though?  I’m fairly confident now that, if I’d have asked my prof six years ago to reschedule the midterm, he would have accommodated me.

I’m telling this story for two reasons.  The first, of course, is to honour the memory of my friend.  He was a great guy who was gone far too soon.  The second, though, is perhaps the more poignant, as well as probably the more relevant to you, the students of today; it’s to remind everyone reading this that it’s OK to ask for help.  Sometimes, the burdens of life become too heavy to bear, and more often than not that’s outside of your control.

Sometimes, life throws stuff at us that we can’t handle on our own.  Whether you’re struggling with personal demons, someone close to you is going through a particularly rough time, or even if you’ve lost a friend, this kind of thing happens sometimes.  The good news, though, is that you don’t have to handle the burden alone, nor do you have to push what you’re dealing with aside in the name of academic success.  It’s good to push yourself, but only to an extent.  If you’re dealing with something bigger than school, it’s OK to step back and admit you need some time.

If you’re going through something serious, most profs – heck, most people – will understand.

HOW TO MAKE PEACE WITH A NOISY MIND

AMITAV BANERJI

There are few things more exasperating than a busy mind that never stops and won’t let you have a moment of peace. Imagine you are on vacation. Every department in your life is aware that you are on vacation and no one is bothering you. However, the ‘on vacation’ message hasn’t reached your mind department. ‘Wow, that drink was expensive. I need to lose weight. I’m as white as a sheet. What will people think?” There is no point in a relaxing vacation if a person has to deal with a noisy mind. Over the past 4 years, I have discovered that quieting a noisy mind isn’t nearly as difficult as I imagined. Here are a few tips that have helped me along the way.
1. Accept that your mind is busy
The average mind has more than 50,000 thoughts per day. Considering the number of thoughts we have on a daily basis, it is a good thing that we have noisy minds. Even people who are laid back tend to have a lot of traffic upstairs. It’s important to accept that our minds are busy. When we don’t accept this fact we create an additional layer of suffering by thinking there’s something wrong with us for having so many thoughts. There isn’t. Expecting our minds to not be busy is like expecting today the sun to stay up forever. When you allow your mind to be busy but accept that fact, the busyness loses its power over you.
2. Engaging with the mind is optional
It is not the thoughts themselves that cause us to suffer but our fascination and preoccupation. We spend our time stewing and ruminating in these thoughts and usually giving them a lot of undeserved time and attention especially when we don’t need to. The less you get involved in what the mind gets into, the more peace you will experience.
3. Watch your thoughts from a distance
In order to untangle ourselves from our thoughts and disengage, we need some space between ourselves and our minds. Most of our thinking patterns are habits we take for granted that center around entangling ourselves with our thoughts. Space allows us to notice these patterns and watch the mind objectively – with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgemental acceptance. The simple act of watching thoughts, rather than being entrenched in them, can create a space to view the mind.
4. Give your thoughts freedom to come and go
If you want to tame an angry bull, the worst thing you can do is to tie him up or confine the bull in any way. This only makes the bull angrier. If you want the bull to calm down, let him out in an open field to run around in, and it’s the same with the mind. Thoughts themselves don’t cause problems, they appear in the fray for a moment or two and then they vanish. It is when we try to control them or manage them – through labeling them as good or bad – that we create suffering for ourselves. Let them wander through the field of your mind and they will tire out. Don’t energize them with your resistance.
If thoughts are there anyway, it’s much better to befriend them than resist them.

KEEP A SABBATH, KEEP IT WELL

ERIC ANDERSSON

Student life is stressful.

It’s a cliché, but also a fundamental truth; stress is a part of the student experience. You sign up to be a student, you’re going to experience stress. Sorry. That’s just how it is.

Seeing how student life is so stressful, there’s been an avalanche of attempts (including one by our own Staff Writer, Aliza Graham, in our first printed issue of the year) to teach students how to manage that stress, how to minimize it, how to live with it. She had some good tips in that article (seriously, go read it if you haven’t, it should be up on the website somewhere), but one she didn’t mention that I’d like to talk about is taking a Sabbath.

For those of you who don’t know, the Sabbath is a day of rest. Coming from the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath refers to the day when no one works, when everyone rests. Now, I’m not trying to preach Judeo-Christian theology here (I swear, I’m not!), but what I am trying to say is that, in our increasingly busy society, the idea of a Sabbath holds a lot of value. A day off – where you don’t do any work, where you don’t worry at all about your stress or obligations – can be incredibly liberating, especially amidst the hustle and bustle of student/professional life.

I’ve been doing this for years, ever since about halfway through my first year at Augustana. Personally, Friday is my Sabbath: I go to class, yes, but other than that I do nothing school-related. I don’t do any homework. I don’t do any studying. I don’t do any reading. And it helps a lot. Having a day to unwind, to decompress, to not worry about schoolwork, is incredibly refreshing, invigorating and liberating.

I do make exceptions, of course. If I have a massive term paper due on Monday, I’ll often do a bit of work on Friday. If I have a final exam on Saturday, I’ll study a bit on Friday. But the specific day of the week isn’t the point. The point is giving yourself a break. The point is making sure you have time to rest, to decompress, to unwind.

In our world of never-ending responsibilities, our world of endless work, our world of term papers and final exams and presentations and heaven knows what else, giving your weary mind a break can be extremely liberating. I know it is for me. If you find yourself struggling with stress, with an endlessly-growing to-do list, I’d highly recommend taking a step back, finding a day to let your problems go, and committing to it. There’s a very good chance you’ll become a healthier, happier person for it. And, in the end, isn’t that what all us students want?

MORE THAN JUST A DEGREE

BY ERIC ANDERSSON

Well, here we are.

The last day of classes.

It took a while to get here, didn’t it?  And yet…and yet, it all went by so fast.

The last day of classes.

The end of the semester always puts me in a contemplative mood.  I guess endings in general do that.  It’s not as big an ending as the end of one’s degree is, or even the end of the year, but it still gets me thinking.

And for me, as someone who graduated once and then came back, it got me thinking about the reasons we come to university in the first place.

For many people, if you ask them what they want from their degree, they’ll probably just say “a job,” or something like that.  And yet…in today’s work world, a university degree is, in many ways, less valuable than ever before.  Most people who’ve tried to find a job after graduation know this, and for those of you about to graduate it’s an unfortunate reality.  Of course, that’s not to say a degree is completely useless when looking for work – it isn’t – but it doesn’t have the power it once had.  Unless you’re graduating into one of a few specific fields, your degree is less valuable than it’s ever been.

To make matters worse, the Alberta government recently slashed funding for post-secondary institutions.  It’s not like we didn’t see this coming – I mean, did anyone really expect Jason Kenney and the Conservatives to not cut educational funding? – but this still means the tuition freeze we had under the Notley government is gone.  We can fully expect our tuition to go up over the next few years.

With this in mind – the now-set-to-climb tuition rate, and the lowering economic value of a University degree – I have to ask: why are we even still here?

Now, don’t get me wrong: there are many valid answers to this question (if there weren’t, well…Augustana wouldn’t exist, now would it?), but the one that resonates most with me personally is the experience.  Personally, I love school.  I’ve always loved school, right from when I was a kid.  And over the ten semesters I’ve been here, Augustana has become like home to me.  The small class sizes are great, too; they provide an opportunity to learn from your instructor on a more one-on-one level than you can at a larger institution.  And that’s not to mention all the transferrable skills I’ve picked up from my time here; things like working for the Dag, working for the writing centre and joining the choir (among other potential extracurricular activities) all look good on a resume.  Not just that, though; they all provide a rich, fulfilling experience that classes alone just wouldn’t.

Yes, we’re here primarily to earn a degree.  But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our time here is about far, far more than just earning that degree, especially considering the times we live in now.

Of course, that’s just my experience.  Every other student, teacher, and staff member will have their own experience.  And so, this holiday season, I challenge you, whoever you are, to think about what drew you here to Augustana, what keeps you here…and what, if anything, makes your experience here more than just a degree.

(Originally published December 11, 2019)

 

MANAGE YOUR ENERGY, NOT YOUR TIME

BY AMITAV BANERJI

When classes start to get harder we as students tend to prioritize our academics over our physical and mental health. As my classes started to get harder during my third year, I started to lose touch with my friends and I stopped socializing. This made me resent my classes which not only affected my grades but also changed my behavior towards the people in my life.  I tried to manage my time, but no matter how hard I tried I always felt exhausted at the end of the day. That’s when I realized it is more important to manage my energy rather than my time and the first step is to create good habits.
The first question I had to answer was, “what makes a habit?”. After some research, I understood that a habit is created when we create a habit loop in our brains. The habit loop consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue for a habit can be anything that triggers the habit. Cues most generally fall under the following categories: a location, a time of day, other people, an emotional state, or an immediately preceding action. The routine for a habit is the most obvious part of the habit. It signifies the motions you need to go through to complete a habit. If you have a habit of exercising, the act of running on the treadmill is your routine. Lastly, the reward is what you gain from doing the habit. It could be the endorphins you get from working out or the enjoyment you get after eating a Kit Kat bar in the morning.
Turns out there is a fourth step to the habit loop called the craving. This fourth step is what allows a habit to become a daily occurrence in our lives. We go through the same motions every day because we crave the reward that comes with a habit. As we continue to practice our habits, our brains start to crave the cue rather than the reward which is what allows habits to become ingrained in our lives. Once I understood this I introduced good habits into my daily routine. The first habit I introduced was that of meditation, and I practiced it at the same time every single day.
Soon enough, my entire day was filled with good habits and I started to notice a change in my life. Bad habits tend to take up energy but good habits re-energize you throughout the day. My good habits allowed me to act on opportunities rather than react to situations that took place on a daily basis. This allowed me to choose what I spent my energy on. Once I started to manage my time better, my grades, as well as my social life, improved, and once again I started to enjoy my time at university.

(Originally published November 6, 2019)

LISTEN (IT’S OK TO HAVE NOTHING TO SAY)

BY ERIC ANDERSSON

Just hours before sitting down to write this, I was walking out of the forum, fretting over all the things I need to get done, when the “Augustana Anonymous” board caught my eye. This board, which sits right at the north end of the Forum, is put up every year as part of Sexual Violence Awareness week, and is an effort to give victims of sexual violence a safe place to share their story, and gives others the opportunity to leave messages of sympathy, encouragement and solidarity.

I don’t know whether the Augustana Anonymous board will still be up by the time this is published, but if it is, I urge you to go read through those stories. They serve as a stark reminder that yes, sexual violence happens, it happens all around us, and people’s lives are torn apart every day by these tragic and senseless events.

However, as much as the victims’ stories need to be heard and honoured, it’s not the victims I want to focus on here.

With any issue like this – be it sexual violence, domestic abuse, racism, sexism, and anything in between – there’s a lot of white noise. Whether it’s people who outright victim-blame, or people who insist the issue “isn’t that bad,” or even simply people who want to help victims but have no idea where to start, discussion over issues like these always results in a lot of people shouting overtop one another, determined to make their voice heard.

Now, look. I myself have never been a victim of sexual violence. I can’t speak to anyone’s experience in that regard. I would have no idea where to begin. To even try and speak from that experience would be nothing less than disrespectful to those who’ve suffered.

But that’s exactly my point.

It’s human nature to want to have something to say. It’s human nature to want to dominate the conversation. We all want to be the smart one, the one with all the answers. But sometimes we’re just out of our depth. Sometimes we just don’t have the experience to say or do anything of real value.

But that’s OK. It’s perfectly OK to have nothing to say. It’s perfectly fine to just listen; in fact, I’d say that’s preferable to muddying up the conversation with white noise.

Once again, I urge anyone reading this to go and read the stories shared on the Augustana Anonymous board. I also encourage those of you who read to add a message of solidarity. Let these people know they’re not alone. Let these people know we stand with them. But even more than that, I encourage those who read this who haven’t been a victim to approach the conversation with listening ears.

And from there, one can hope, we can learn the most effective ways to fight these abusive behaviours, and the attitudes that lead to them.

(Originally published November 6, 2019)