Brown University Students Say They’re ‘Failing Classes’ From Stress of Activism Work

February 22, 2016 Updated: February 22, 2016

Student activists at Brown University are pressuring school administrators to make it easier for activists to skip or delay classwork so that they can devote more time to social justice activism. 

Justice Gaines received several notes from school deans that excused him from going to class after he said he was being emotionally overwhelmed by student activism work. 

After the publication of several allegedly racist opinion pieces in The Brown Daily Herald, Brown University’s student newspaper, Gaines felt pressure to help students organize protests, and “had a panic attack and couldn’t go to class for several days,” the Brown Daily Herald reports

Epoch Times Photo
Justice Gaines at the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (Button Poetry/YouTube)

Professors have the freedom to accept or reject excuse notes from administrative staff, but over 90 percent of the notes are accepted. 

Still, Gaines thinks that the the notes should be “more accessible” to students and “more serious, so that professors will be more inclined to follow them,” because sometimes requests for more time for schoolwork is rejected.

Student activist Liliana Sampedro, 18, faced such a rejection, recalling one time where she emailed a professor for permission to delay her research presentation for a week. 

“I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t slept. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally,” Sampedro told the Herald, and she had to stay up overnight to complete the project. 

I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t slept. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally.
— Liliana Sampedro, Student activist

The dilemma between student activism and schoolwork, Sampredo said, “has systemic effects on students of color.” 

Another student, who goes by the pseudonym David, said that his grades have dropped “dramatically” after he took on activism work, and that he’s on “antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills.” 

David said he has spent a number of hours attempting to organize demonstrations and claims to have reached out to both Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and academic deans for support. However, he told the student paper that notes requesting extended deadlines were only “bandages” for the stress of balancing activism, friends, and schoolwork.

Some of these complaints were included in a “diversity and inclusion action plan” proposal submitted to the administrators at the university, which has around a $62,000 tuition for an academic year.