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A Brief Letter to an Institution that Believes Extensions are the Accommodations We Need Right Now

Editor’s note: All opinions pieces published in the Clerk represent only the views and ideas of the author. 

Dear Professors:

I cannot do the work you think I can do, and I will not, either.

I am exhausted. I sleep in terror for 15 hours every day, riddled with anxiety and the fluttering dread of living in a world where every surface threatens infection, isolation, contagion. I wash my hands every twenty minutes even though I don’t leave my room. I am isolated, as a 14-day long self-quarantine is legally mandatory in my country and also highly recommendable. I have spent the past week packing and repacking, uncertain about whether I’d be let into Argentina or allowed to leave the United States, whether borders would close (they have) and domestic flights be canceled (they likely will). I am an international student. If classes resume and I cannot reenter the US, my visa will be at risk and I could lose all of the work I’ve done over the past three years and the money my parents have found—God knows where—to fund my studies. I somehow have to take a flight home tomorrow and leave behind every plan I’ve made for the final semester of my junior year. I am exhausted.

My grandfather has cancer and is entirely immunocompromised—if I sneeze near my mother, and my younger brother sees Grandpa a week later, that one stupid sneeze could kill him. I am exhausted as my body betrays me and threatens to betray my family.

Unlike many of my peers, my whiteness protects me from being seen as a threat as I walk down the street. And yet, I am exhausted as I go once again to CVS hoping to get hand sanitizer.

I have the books I need with me, but also mediocre WiFi and no printer at home. I have my computer, my chargers, food delivered to my door and a bathroom all to myself. How many Haverford students don’t have these comforts, will not be able to self-quarantine as easily, might not have as easy access to nourishing food? Alas, I am exhausted and cannot fathom what my low-income peers are experiencing.

When you tell me that Zoom replaces class discussions—it doesn’t, but who cares—I chuckle. However, when you tell me that my 8-page paper’s due date will be next week—and I don’t even know where I’ll be in three days—I can’t chuckle: I simply don’t know where to begin. When you take an entire week to decide that you’re increasing the workload for our class, I refresh my email inbox with the ardent trepidation of a determined, but overwhelmed student. When I realize that I might not have the income from my campus jobs, I wonder how to help my family pay for this school and I am exhausted.

I am exhausted while dragging my fingers along the keys of my keyboard (when was the last time I disinfected them?), and I feel the urge to let this letter go and sleep. I simply cannot do your work, not because I am lazy but because I am terrified for myself and even more so for my friends, family and loved ones. For my friend currently on immunosuppressants, and the one who heard someone cough and had a panic attack in the street. For my friend whose undocumented mother is even more at risk of deportation now that hospitals crawling with ICE agents. For international students who still don’t know if they’ll lose visas and jobs by leaving the country, and poor students who simply cannot afford to not work right now. For my friends who have had to return to abusive and harmful households. For my professors who are immunocompromised or whose families are. For those whose precarity within this institution forces them to continue working, despite the sheer impossibility of combining labor and care at this time. For my grandfather, who fell yesterday and laid on the floor in agony for an hour because we are constantly wary of spending too much time with him or touching him.

I am exhausted. I am exhausted by all the turmoil around me, and I cannot and will not do this work, not right now. As the world writhes—and I sit in my dorm room, which I’ve barely left in about a week—I cannot prioritize learning, reading or writing. Give me space and time to gather myself, to care for all of those around me that need help, to be taken care of myself; then we can think about work.

Sincerely,

Federico Perelmuter ‘21

English Major

PS: While I wrote this letter, my flight home (potentially my final opportunity to enter my country for a few months) was canceled. I have spent most of the last few days calling the Argentine government and the one airline still allowed into the country as I try to procure a flight that will let me return. I now no longer know when I will see my family next, and currently remain on Haverford’s campus.

6 Comments

  1. Rebecca Lesses March 19, 2020

    Thank you for writing this very heartfelt letter to your professors. I teach at a different college (not at Haverford), but came to this article from a link on a Facebook group for professors who are working on how to teach in this very difficult time. I am sorry that you are not getting the accommodations you need, and I hope that you will be able to get them now. Your words are ones that I am sure other students around the country could be writing, and I will think of them when trying to help my own students.

  2. P L March 20, 2020

    I agree with everything in this letter, but keep in mind that professors’ teaching requirements come from the administration. I can’t speak for Haverford, but my institution told us that we had to “make up” the contact time with students for the rest of the semester, within the normal semester timeframe.

    More importantly, I’m so sorry for you and others whose lives have been upended. I worry about my students who have nowhere to go.

  3. Alex Gutierrez March 20, 2020

    Great piece. The college should seriously suspending the semester for international students if not everyone.

  4. Cynthia Berkowitz March 20, 2020

    Thank you for this eloquent, passionate statement about the massive stress experience by too many now. Thank you for calling upon Haverford to maintain its values of treating all humanely. I’m sending wishes for healing of body and soul to you, your family, and all the college students who find themselves in the kind of painful circumstances you describe. Please let us know how you are doing. Cynthia ’83

  5. Federico Perelmuter March 23, 2020

    Hi! Just an update to say that I am now safely home after several further cancellations, thanks especially to the financial support of my dean, who I thank profusely. Thank you to all who have reached out!

  6. Max March 28, 2020

    Good. You can write such nice letter. you defiantly can do your study.
    Good luck

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