Perspectives: Are teachers following South Senate’s new camera legislation?

graphic by Emily Cheng

Yes – Arshia Verma

No – Yana Kane

South Senate recently passed a resolution that allows students to not be required to leave their cameras on during class. So far, teachers have followed this new legislation and have even become more understanding of the difficulties students face in hybrid and distance learning models because teachers empathize with such problems too. 

The harsh reality of online learning is that students are not coping well with the unnecessarily stressful environment it creates. Due to the Senate’s new camera legislation, teachers have given students longer breaks during class, and some are becoming more accepting of students’ cameras being off. Through my teachers’ efforts and apparent change in mindset, I feel more comfortable in class, which builds a much more welcoming environment. 

As a person who has experienced difficulties with my mental health during the pandemic, having to consistently keep my camera on has pushed my limits, and interacting with my classmates through 80-minute Zoom classes has been exhausting. Academic stressors already take a toll on my personal insecurities that many others face as well, and a transfer to online school has only deepened these concerns. Now, I constantly worry about my appearance or if my room looks presentable in the background. 

The option to keep cameras off helps students prioritize emotional well-being over their online presentability, something that my teachers understand. One of my teachers even said, “I don’t know how you guys survive 8 hours on video; it’s tough.” 

There are numerous reasons why a student could have their camera off, and it does not always mean they are not present. It is reassuring that teachers acknowledge the difficult circumstances students may face every day on Zoom.

At times during class, I have had to babysit my little sister while my parents run errands. I keep my camera off because I do not want to distract others with my chaotic home environment. This helps me balance my home and school life because it allows me to handle both tasks. By messaging my teachers beforehand, they now do not automatically assume that I am absent when I turn my camera off. Through the new camera legislation, teachers can better recognize the need for students to turn off their cameras, and they are progressively following it as well.

The Senate’s legislation has also relieved students from the stress of having a poor internet connection. Throughout the day, my parents, sister and I use the same WiFi source, which often results in poor internet during my classes. This is not unique to me, and teachers seem to understand their students’ needs to keep their cameras off.

That being said, I believe that students also play a crucial part in the legislation’s success by reminding teachers and faculty of their responsibilities. If the student body plays its role, then the resolution will surely be obeyed and followed. 

The Senate’s new camera resolution supports others’ and my mental health by stating, “Requiring cameras in breakout rooms leaves introverted students uncomfortable in a place that is supposed to be supportive. This abridgment of safety has detrimental effects on students’ mental health.” Mental health, personal insecurities, poor internet and home life are a few issues that the Senate fully addressed, and this legislation points out that they understand why students may not feel comfortable with having their cameras on during class.

In February, South Senate passed new legislation that gives students the right to keep their cameras off during online classes. This bill was written with the goal to help students feel more comfortable in an online environment. 

Even though Interim Principal Mark Aronson signed the resolution, teachers still chastise students who choose to keep their cameras off. While teachers are right to encourage student engagement and community-building, they should not enforce these rules at the expense of students’ mental health.

I prefer to keep my camera off during certain blocks because I feel drained from the countless Zoom meetings, and I need a break. Staring into a screen for hours is difficult enough, but it only gets worse when I am unable to take a movement break because I have to make sure my camera is on in class. When I leave my camera on, I feel obligated to participate despite my Zoom exhaustion, and it results in worse contributions to the class.

 Although teachers often claim that students’ cameras should be on to create a stronger community, which I know is important, I also believe that this priority of having a sense of community should not prevent teachers from pushing for rigorous academic progress; a school’s focus should be ensuring that all students are effectively learning. 

In breakout rooms, I prefer to keep my camera off because when speaking with a smaller group, the conversations are often short. It is difficult to just sit there while everyone stares at each other in silence. I also find that I can more effectively share my work when I am not worried about my appearance on camera, which is a daily struggle for me. I feel conflicted because when teachers check in with each breakout room, they ask students to turn their cameras back on. 

Teachers should utilize the chat function or school email to allow students to communicate with methods that are most comfortable to them. Further, students should not be forced to disclose their family matters or home life to their class or in breakout rooms for a grade that is based on whether they have their camera on. Students’ grades should reflect their effort and understanding of the subject rather than if they are comfortable showing their face. 

Teachers should make an effort to follow the Senate’s new camera legislation because it is essential when fostering a welcoming community. Teachers who currently disregard this resolution contradict the notion that they are supporting us in these hard times.

 If teachers acknowledge that some students get anxious while talking on camera, students will feel more comfortable and offer better contributions in class. Forcing students to keep their cameras on violates a student’s privacy and could trigger their anxiety. How can our school environment be supportive if restrictions are constantly set on student privacy? 

It is crucial that teachers take the Senate’s decision seriously because its purpose is to create a more comfortable and safe environment for South students. Teachers can ask for more engagement in class while still understanding that it is a difficult time for students. South greatly values the well-being of its faculty and students, but the school’s vow to be more supportive and understanding seems performative when students’ privacy and comfort are taken away.