It’s Time to Talk About ‘Student Time’

College students have their own important relationships with the clock, and those particulars deserve recognition, argues Andrew Joseph Pegoda.

December 1, 2021
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Everyone experiences time differently.

Concepts such as crip time, the second shift (or double day) and queer time help articulate these differences for some minority groups. For instance, crip time theorizes how and why people like me, who were born with significant medical problems, effectively never had a childhood and articulates that when I have a migraine—as I do while writing this essay—writing and thinking are a distinct struggle but are also, oddly, rewarding.

Educators need to begin thinking tangibly in terms of what I propose calling “student time.” Simply put, college students have their own important relationships with the clock, and those particulars deserve recognition, as they can help faculty, staff and administrators function more effectively. While I focus on college students to explain this concept, it absolutely applies to early childhood through 12th grade students, too, and could be developed in tandem with theories of human growth and development.

Acknowledging student time begins by recognizing the personal sacrifices someone makes by choosing to enroll in college. People sacrifice time with friends and other loved ones as well as give up promotions and financial advancement to pursue their studies. As the population ages and as nontraditional enrollments increase, college students are trading time with children and sometimes dying family members for the opportunities that higher education institutions promise. At the same time, many college students also encounter bosses and cousins or parents who belittle their choices and pressure them to do things more “worthwhile” and “practical.” Additionally, graduate students in doctoral programs tend to enter the regular, full-time labor force about a decade later than their peers—time that can never be regained in a capitalist society.

Thus, student time requires an acknowledgment of all the factors competing for a student’s time on this planet. It respects that students are making choices to spend that precious time with us.

Class time is another core component of student time, especially for face-to-face or synchronous online classes. For the vast majority of people in college, this student time includes commuting to and from campus, walking to class, the class’s duration, and frequently getting a quick bite to eat when there is a spare minute. During class, students are also thinking about all the demands waiting for them, and they often might have an eye on the cellphone in case an emergency call or text arrives. And outside of classes, as students are working or eating supper with their family, they spend moments trying to remember which test is due when.

Thus, student time appreciates all the factors that decrease a person’s time and ability to be fully present for sustained periods.

While the amount of time demanded of students outside of classes or for online classes varies significantly, my concept of student time recognizes that undergraduate students can expect to spend an average of six to 12 hours weekly per 15-week class, and graduate students—especially those in doctoral programs—can expect to spend at least an average of 15 to 25 hours per class each week. My concept of student time recognizes that many, if not most, students aren’t allowed the space and energy for such course demands on top of their other responsibilities (which include sleeping!). My concept of student time acknowledges that students often don’t have the option to delay enrollment or take fewer courses per term because of financial aid and other scholarship requirements. And student time realizes that sometimes students even work more hours to afford books and tuition costs.

Thus, student time accepts—but resists—the capitalist pressures that put most students in impossible, unfair positions.

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On its own, learning is almost always exhausting. Listening, reading, writing and adjusting to the individual quirks of every professor, every class, every semester takes a great deal of time and energy. Time to decompress is necessary, too. And it’s important to recognize a corollary of student time, which is what I call the emotional demands of college. We could also call this “the learning worth crying about.” Said differently, students don’t just learn in classes; they, often for the first time ever, encounter information that invites and even forces them to rethink stereotypes, tragedies and the meanings of life.

Thus, student time acknowledges that college involves equal amounts of learning and unlearning and that college students are drained, physically and emotionally.

Further, while some students find the classroom a refuge from trauma, the classroom can certainly be a place of trauma, too. Inevitably, memories will resurface and will impact how student time manifests. When assigning an essay to our college students, we never know which students will have a flashback to the teacher in second grade who tore up their paper. Similarly, when approaching instructors for the first time each semester, some students might have vivid memories of the teacher in seventh grade who refused to follow approved medical accommodations, fearing something similar will happen again. Other students might have more recent memories with a professor from last semester who said, “I don’t care who you are; I don’t know you; I don’t want to know you.”

Thus, student time acknowledges that learning can be a mental health concern and can take additional time. It recognizes that students are offering their trust.

As with the other concept I coined this year—cripnormativity—my concept of student time aims to help start new conversations.

To be clear: I am not suggesting we offer less demanding classes. I am a firm believer that college must be a rigorous learning experience, and I have seen the data again and again that students respond better when their courses are challenging. Rather, I am suggesting that we use the concept of student time to demonstrate more understanding. I also hope to see conversations that more specifically acknowledge and name the increased, distinct mental load people face while enrolled in college.

Students experience time differently.

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Andrew Joseph Pegoda teaches women’s, gender and sexuality studies; religious studies; and English at the University of Houston. He can be found on Twitter at @AJP_PhD.

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