The Finals Week Sweat Lodge
Though nearly all universities offer programs to reduce stress during exam week, under-promotion can threaten their efficacy.
By Daniel Wilcox, University of Texas at San Antonio
If you’re reading this then what the hell is wrong with you?
You should be studying for finals. My editor would likely take issue with me advising you to put down this magazine, but I care about your grades. I care about your emotions. Because if you’re anything like me, you’re probably balancing your time between taking occasional glances at your notes from the semester and crying blood from the stress.
Finals can be a nasty time, one where you weigh your accumulated knowledge of the semester against the pressure of the ultimate exam, only to find the stress winning by a profound margin. That stress can be overwhelming, and it drives some students to dire and alarming means.
Witness Harvard student Eldo Kim, who, in 2013, delivered a bomb threat the week of finals, allegedly to get out of taking an exam. That’s an extreme measure to say the least, but what sort of environment facilitates a level of tension in which a student would see a bomb scare as valid recourse to taking a final?
Granted, not all of us attend Harvard, an institution renowned for its competitive academic field (the average grade earned is an A minus). But for the rest of us plebeians attending state schools and smaller private colleges, the pressure to ace finals and finish the semester strong is still palpable, and one that warrants examination from the schools themselves. Kim’s response to that stress—heinous though it may be— makes me wonder: What are schools doing to help students manage the stress of finals?
At UTSA, initiatives are planned far in advance. Taking cues from what other schools have done during finals week, Darrius Greaves and Kemi Asenuga in the Student Services office plan to offer free massages for stressed students to relax, and sumo wrestling suits for them to blow off steam. Says Asenuga, “Last year we also had these balloons you could write your problems on and then stomp out, like you were literally popping your problems.” They’ve even brought in puppies and kittens from nearby shelters for students to snuggle with (and hopefully adopt).
But one problem plagues me; I’ve been present for some half-dozen finals weeks at UTSA and not once has anyone offered me a massage or a kitten to squeeze. How could I have missed out on this?
I’d wager my ignorance (and other students’ as well) hinges on the size of the campus. Peter Illing is a junior at UTSA, having transferred from nearby Northwest Vista College. He recalls a bouncy castle being brought out into the quad of NVC during finals week, granting students a brief moment of weightlessness. But was it effective?
“Definitely,” says Illing. “Really helped take my mind off that biting feeling in my neck from having to cram so much in my brain.”
What allowed Illing and his classmates to relish in a stress-relieving, stocking-footed bounce was the widespread knowledge of it on campus. NVC is considerably smaller than the campus Peter attends now, its enrollment dwarfed by UTSA’s 30,000 strong.
If a larger school like UTSA were to implement something like a bouncy castle, would most students even know?
Earlier this month, Student Activities arranged a 30-year anniversary party for UTSA’s University Center (our quad, in essence). When I asked fellow classmates if they were attending, most of them were oblivious to what I was referring to. I might as well have been talking about the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.
When taken to task over their perceived ambivalence toward finals-related stress, Harvard was quick to point out that, like most schools, they provided a range of activities to keep students’ minds calm during finals. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the sheer size of the Harvard campus keeps these activities an innate secret from some of the student body.
I know that was the case for me; had I not gone searching for answers, barging into offices and asking questions, I would’ve never known that a free massage would be waiting for me come finals week. It may be that Eldo Kim would have been less likely to call in that bomb threat had someone just handed him a puppy for a few minutes.