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The veiled challenges of integrity and friendship, unmasked

How this semester has become much more difficult and stressful than expected

We knew this semester would be challenging for the obvious reasons, yet it has already proven to be even more stressful and challenging than originally anticipated. Socializing and learning this semester seem to have introduced hidden stressors and inconveniences, which weren’t realized until the semester actually began.

Exhibit A — many upperclassmen have multiple groups of friends, whether they are fellow CIO members or past hallmates from first year. Choosing which group to meet with can be stressful, as exemplified in the following scenario — I choose to meet a couple friends for lunch on Thursday. Even if we are abiding by the University’s guidelines, there’s still a small risk that we could transmit COVID-19 if just one of us has it unknowingly. More stress then arises later on when I’m choosing whether or not to meet a few other friends for dinner over the weekend. Now, I’m considering the possibility of contracting COVID-19 unknowingly on Thursday and exposing my other friends. 

Even if the virus isn’t transmitted, the people I saw over the weekend still have to quarantine and get tested if one person from the Thursday group says they or a roommate has tested positive. Of course this example assumes that all parties are abiding by the University’s guidelines, which isn’t always the case. Last month, I had to text friends letting them know that I might have been exposed. Luckily I wasn’t, but I still felt bad about forcing a couple of friends and their housemates into isolation for a period of time. 

This hypothetical scenario makes me feel the need to stick with and choose some friends over others. As a result, I’ve drifted away from some friends. I make an effort to keep up with them over text, but I’m very hesitant to meet them for lunch — even if it is outside and socially distant. Staying close to distant friends has definitely been and will continue to be a challenge this semester for many of us. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that the people I once waved to walking down McCormick Road and talked to during class are now strangers with vaguely familiar faces.

However, I also understand that returning students are lucky to even have friends in Charlottesville. Some of the first years I’ve spoken with in my classes have talked about how difficult it is to make friends, which they had mostly expected coming into this semester. However, I think that many students — not just first years  — didn’t expect the academic workload they have to precariously balance alongside this social dilemma.

So, now I give you Exhibit B  — going into this fall, most people knew trying to fit a full semester of material into 12 weeks would inevitably increase the workload density for each class — what wasn’t clear was the additional stress of midterms, specifically in regards to academic integrity. Going online this semester seems to have forced more students to make the choice between their grade and their honor.

Many classes have adjusted by allowing open-note exams, but not all. Some of my professors have advocated against the use of notes during exams, most likely in lieu of past open-note exam scores that have performed poorly in contrast to their counterpart. While this is a valid point, circumstances are foundationally different this semester. The nature of online classes makes cheating easier, which means that there’s almost nothing stopping students from using their notes, Google and each other during a completely asynchronous exam. 

I am not suggesting that most people cheat. Instead, I am presenting the thought process that students most likely face with regards to cheating. “Do I maintain my academic integrity and accept the potential for an unfavorable curve as a result of others cheating? Or do I sacrifice my integrity for a potentially better grade?” Notice that I did not include the risk of getting caught, as that risk is largely mitigated by the settings of the online exam. 

There are exceptions to this, such as when professors require their students to show their surroundings via laptop camera, or instruct them to only have the test window open on their computer screen. However, it seems unlikely that these measures could make cheating impossible since there are so many variables that professors are unable to control outside of a classroom exam setting. This also puts a burden on professors as they attempt to test students on what they’ve learned while still maintaining the integrity of their course. 

So far, I’ve listed some — but certainly not all — unanticipated frustrations and adversities of student life this fall. What can be done about them? It took me a while to answer this question, but the only answer I can come up with is ironically one that I have come to hate the most — that all we can do is “our best.” I despise this answer because it is overly idealistic and extremely vague. But the reason I use it in this column is because of its implications.

If all we are able to do is our best, then there’s nothing more to do. This is something I think everyone needs to hear and remember going forward, and I sincerely urge anyone reading this to cut themselves some slack this semester in order to reduce stress levels and relax a bit. I have personally accepted that this semester is not what I thought it would be, nor what I want it to be. So let’s be realistic about the rest of this semester — enjoy what we can, and be grateful for the time we get to spend as students of the University.


Mario Rosales is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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