Open letter to faculty from SUNY New Paltz students

Dear SUNY New Paltz Faculty,

We the students write to you the faculty with the intent of sharing our experiences so far of distance learning as well as some general thoughts on this situation we are all facing as a community. As these last few weeks have marked a shift in your teaching and planning for the remainder of the spring semester, Monday, March 30, marked the start of a new learning experience none of us chose.

We recognize as Interim Provost Lyman states in her note to faculty on the Eve of remote learning, you have worked hard to find ways for us to continue to meet your learning objectives. Just as you would like to deliver and teach as you planned, we want to learn and grow. When we register for classes, decide on a degree to work towards, and embark on each of our academic paths we anticipate learning with excitement towards our future careers. Right now, with all the uncertainty in the air, it can be difficult at times for students to channel that excitement we had into motivation towards coursework. It can be hard to focus on assignments and absorbing content in this already unfamiliar way of learning, when our mental capacity has been compromised in ways unforeseen.

Our priorities have shifted since the semester began again post Spring Break. Many students have dramatically different circumstances now than they did before. A lot of us have been forced to live, and now study in a different environment than we were accustomed to. Some already found their home environment to be more stressful than residing on campus. Some who support themselves financially have lost on-campus positions, internships and/or off-campus jobs. Some of us have parents who have been laid off. Some of us have family and close friends who have been infected by the virus. We have students in our community with confirmed cases. Some of your students might be sick themselves; and some may not have access to testing. Some of us have loved ones who are essential workers. Some of us are essential workers. We are all coping in our own ways with the loss of how we envisioned this semester to be. We know you are too. Below, you will find some points that reflect overarching feedback from students on what they would like their professors to know and/or do to provide comfort during this time and to allow us to make the most of our learning experience:


  1. We ask that you take the time to check in with us, especially for those of you who plan synchronous class meetings. Simply ask a question like: “how are you all holding up?” To let us know you care about our well-being beyond our capacity to learn. Before diving straight into content and activities, give your students a moment: give them permission to collect themselves. Some of you have already been doing this, and it is deeply appreciated and needed.
  2. Create learning opportunities that foster connection between your students and reframe your efforts towards building class community. If you can, find ways for us to engage with each other, and sustain collaboration. It will be helpful for those of us who may be feeling isolated during this time and deprived of social connection.
  3. Formally update your syllabus and/or course calendar to account for the shifted timeline of the semester and your students’ new circumstances. Please be gentle with assigning more work than we typically anticipated because of the extra week of Spring Break, or the change in structure of your class. By updating your syllabus and giving us access to an updated plan for the semester, we can be better prepared than some of us have been. Give us advance notice of what to expect and be clear about what it needed to complete assignments.
  4. Be flexible with us as we process new expectations and navigate online platforms we are not all used to. Just as some of you have likely not taught an online class before, many of your students have never experienced an online class. Give us time to digest your instructions for completing work to make up for the in person class time you previously planned for. Allow for flexibility in your course structure and timeline. Allow us to adjust to your new level of accessibility as well.
  5. If you are kind with our questions, we are more likely to be patient with your answers. Invite your students into the conversation, and if you openly solicit feedback, it is more likely that we will feel comfortable giving it. You likely know that many students are anxious about grades and the idea of being negatively impacted by something that feels out of our control. Create a space for your students to voice their apprehension and talk through how to still make the most of your class.


SUNY New Paltz Students