My morning routine includes one of these UV sunlamps which helps with seasonal depression and, in my case, sleep drunkenness due to my delayed circadian rhythm sleep-wake cycle. It’s called a Happy Lamp, and it has 4.5 stars on Amazon based on reviews from 7,545 people. I also have a small whiteboard on the left side of my bathroom with a list of prep items: put some clothes on, get some meds, some contacts, some deodorant, oh my god, please brush your teeth, Lily is packing your fucking lunch. I set ten alarms, each for fifteen second increments; my contacts and meds are neatly stored next to my outfit on my bedside table.
Recently I was about ten minutes late for my half past eight despite all the planning. This behavior resulted in my being late for an exam. I went to get my paper as quietly as possible, and my teacher asked me a question in front of our class of thirty or forty people which I’m not sure was meant to be humiliating, but it was certainly received that way . Needless to say, I’m not sure I did very well on this test.
Admittedly, I only take an eight-and-a-half-hour course to complete my studies: my masochism has its limits. But every Sunday, I write on that sloppy little board another final note to myself: Get the f*** in class.
It’s not just lateness, especially morning lateness, that I struggle with. That’s all. My narcolepsy cluster disorder leaves me trapped in the plush comfort of my blue fleece blanket, dreaming of no worse hell than getting up. Due to my recently diagnosed ADHD, I constantly miscalculate the time I need to get to campus, or, perhaps worse, I get trapped in hyperfocus – a presumed skill that often turns into a curse of several hours when I need to get to class or use the toilet or make sure the house isn’t burning around me.
My weekly goal, however, is to arrive on time for every class every week. I have about a 10% success rate, but at least I’m being strategic about it, picking and choosing which one to skip or rush out of breath so it doesn’t become a pattern. I usually forget to STINF many of these courses because I can’t bring myself to perform this simple executive function. The weeks I manage to attend every class, I’m miserable with exhaustion, no matter my sleep routine or my schedule. My housemates might not hear from me for eighteen hours while I finish my disgusting hibernation to prepare for another whiteboard-filled Monday morning.
My internal narrative produces an external perception of laziness. I don’t care because I’m a failed senior, but I do care that my absences might affect my grade (crude!). It’s bloody story after bloody story for teachers who can be understanding but often add to my excessive amount of shame and guilt. If I was the only one with class attendance anxiety, I would simply discuss these issues with my trusted primary care provider. But while our sobbing stories differ, disabled and chronically ill students are all aboard the same sinking ship that is a mandatory attendance and lateness policy. That’s not a hot catch, y’all: Mandatory attendance and lateness policies are ableist.
(While I don’t have the words to do justice to other aspects of classroom attendance policies, I do want to mention that not only are they ableist, but they also perpetuate all the other “-isms”: if students don’t have money to see a doctor, they’ll be sick longer, mitigating absences from class; our medical system professes subjectivity in the face of stark differences in the quality of care for people of different racial backgrounds.)
We know that for every minute we miss class, we lose about two dollars and fifty cents, which equals who knows what proportion of our tuition. I can also say bluntly that before the treatment, I slept in front of my teacher for about fifty to seventy-five percent of class time. I probably made one or two meaningful contributions to a six-person seminar in which every once in a while something odd was mentioned and I sat up, said a nonsensical answer, and went on to sleep. I wish someone would calculate how much money I was losing. Frankly, amuse me.
Typically, only seminar-based courses at Duke have a mandatory attendance policy, which spares us at least introductory classes, but seminars make up the majority of my curriculum and that of many other humanities majors. and social. Rather than miss out, I took classes to the detriment of my mental, emotional, and physical health. Many of us still do.
Look: ADHD blindness is real. Few people actively try to be late to class, and if they do, it’s honestly daring and quite impressive. Forgetting to complete STINF forms is also a reality. Sleeping during class due to chronic physical or mental illness is, again, a reality. I resent trying to legitimize them as real things, all of which create the most real thing of all: being tasked with constantly apologizing for our disability; in other words, constantly apologizing for our existence.
The student disability access office will grant many pleasant accommodations, but if you’re trying to request more excused absences, it’s a tough no in my experience. This is after going through the process of applying for disability status, accommodations, and doctor’s notes, which is extremely daunting for someone with poor executive function. Fifty percent extra time for exams is good. The same goes for late work. They draw the line to the missing class. Simply inexcusable.
Honestly, I don’t know why people advocate attendance policies in the first place. Sometimes we prefer not to explain why we are not in class. Nobody wants to have to dwell on a loved one’s funeral or their traumatic depression or a specific surgery that is also very personal. And we also don’t have to justify skipping class because we’re sheepishly hungover and just want to breathe for a second. I understand why seminars can be less brutal if all twelve students show up instead of three, but if the other nine students were forced to sit in class, would a real and meaningful contribution actually be made by one of them? them without resentment for the material and the very fact of learning?
Of course, attendance policies prepare us for the American workforce. The capitalist workplace has many problems – thank you, HBO Max’s Industryfor shedding some light on the worst of them, though I’m not sure one can fatally overdose Modafinil – which I can’t fully discuss here, but my answer is, of course, why did we we need preparation?
Ableism perpetuates in the workplace because self-care runs counter to the American dream: when everything is productivity, our body becomes capital. We distinguish ourselves by what we can produce that makes us valuable. The capitalist labor system says this with its chest.
College, however, claims to be a place where we can seek solace and be harmlessly silly and foster a certain love for learning, but we all know that to be a lie. How many tries can we make, how many things can we do, as hole upon hole is drilled in our vessel, and we’re sinking little by little? By the time we graduate, we’re so underwater that the only thing left to do is try to make sense of the submergence.
I want to be able to miss class or be late because my handicap is exploding this week without worrying about a five-point penalty in my grade. I also want others to be able to miss class because the day is so bright and daylight saving time is approaching and we don’t have much time before everything gets dark again.
Mandatory attendance policies may be well-intentioned, but they rely on the student’s natural distrust, the “laziness” coded by the individual’s ableism. If students miss classes, we run out of materials. It will hurt us on book reports, essays and tests. We probably also feel intense shame because of the messages we’ve received time and time again about skipping the one conference that might even change our lives completely. Please let this be a sufficient penalty.
Lily Levin is a senior from Trinity.
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