The WHAM survey included a comment box for open-ended responses. Over 13 weeks, respondents made more than 1,200 comments. To protect respondent confidentiality, we hired an outside reviewer to code the comments for us, and report back on major themes and suggestions. The TLC has composed a summary for this website, but we encourage you to also read the full report, WHAM Study: Qualitative Analysis and Findings (PDF).
Please remember, these qualitative findings don’t exist on their own. They were collected along with the quantitative data also available on this site, and should be viewed together to get the fullest picture possible of the issue of workload for students at Harvey Mudd.
The most prevalent trend in both the qualitative comments and quantitative results was, “a persistent sense of overwhelm, stress, fatigue, desire to cope and a lack of flourishing” due to the cumulative effects of workload. Another common theme was an explicit awareness that workload is a zero-sum game—a choice to do one thing meant spending less time on something else. Common coping mechanisms included tighter scheduling to increase efficiency and/or dropping courses/hobbies/activities in order to prioritize others.
The most prevalent theme in the comments had to do with mental well-being (36 percent of the comments were about negative mental well-being). Comments on this theme often described/mentioned:
- feeling “stressed;” workload being “killer,” “overwhelming,” “frustrating” and having “no time.”
- that the cumulative effects of workload across courses (rather than any particular course) was overwhelming.
- frustration with the amount of time spent outside of class figuring out material vs. time spent completing assignments.
- frustration that workload interferes with out-of-class activities or responsibilities.
- feelings of guilt for making choices that delayed or prioritized something other than coursework or for not trying hard enough and/or underperforming.
There were also comments that occurred far less often, on both ends of the spectrum: those that indicated that the workload was “normal” or “acceptable” as well as comments that are considered “serious.” They referenced seeking or receiving psychological treatment, the desire for, or fear of, self-injurious behavior, or fear for the mental health of their peers.
Comments regarding physical well-being made up the second most prevalent theme at about 17 percent of the comments. These were overwhelmingly related to sleep deprivation (e.g., feeling tired, exhausted, not sleeping enough) and illness (feeling sick, reporting having been sick, lack of energy). These comments:
- often focused on the impact of an illness on schoolwork, rather than the impact of an illness on health.
- often made connections between physical well-being with mental well-being.
- presented, to a lesser degree, a need for better diet and exercise.
Comments about social well-being were much less frequent (only 4 percent of the responses). Positive comments about social wellness spiked during breaks and often expressed surprise or joy at catching up or finding time to pursue an interest unrelated to coursework. Other comments on this theme:
- acknowledged the support of specific faculty or community members while others cited a lack of support from faculty or the institution as a whole.
- expressed regret about not having more time to socialize or be with friends due to workload or other out-of-class commitments.
So, what next?
The TLC’s goal in conducting the WHAM study was to understand and document issues of workload here at Mudd and to be as transparent as possible in sharing what we find. The qualitative comments provided us with several recommendations for future action, among them to have conversations on campus about issues of mental, physical and social well-being on campus. This work has provided the campus with several potential avenues for our next steps as a campus.
Defining well-being at Mudd
Language is a powerful source of reinforcement for cultural norms. Finding language that resonates across campus will make the commitment to well-being uniquely part of the Mudd experience. Are students inspired to thrive? To flourish? To be resilient? To persist? What characteristics and capacities have helped Mudd faculty to be successful in their own lives and careers? Finding language that matters to the Mudd community will be important as we move forward.
Making the commitment to well-being at Mudd explicit, pervasive and persistent
An environment for well-being is created by addressing this commitment within and across students’ academic and social lives. The space for well-being can be made within the curriculum, for example, by including opportunities for reflection and strategies for coping within specific courses or as part of the Core. Without reinforcement and opportunities for application outside of the curriculum, students may be tempted to compartmentalize these experiences as “something to get through.” Thinking about how commitments to well-being are reinforced between the curriculum and the co-curriculum will help students see that all of Mudd is committed to their well-being.
Empowering students as well-being change agents
Students are active and willing partners in finding innovative solutions to the challenges they face. Mudd already has robust and visible peer tutoring programs. Mentors and Grutors are a significant resource for students, though their focus is primarily on academics. How might students be empowered to promote well-being for themselves and their peers?
We know that creating an environment at Mudd in which students feel supported, thrive and flourish will not develop as a result of a single action, program or initiative. Our strategy must be holistic, pervasive, persistent and innovative to meet the unique pressures that Mudd students face—no single initiative will be responsible for a change nor should we expect these changes to occur overnight. We expect improvement will come as a result of the accumulated impact of many efforts across campus working together with the same goal in mind. Not all of these programs or ideas will launch at the same time or with equal fanfare. Initial steps might involve convening a taskforce to strategize around short-term messaging, events and development of longer-term goals. In time, the TLC hopes future WHAM studies will reflect a greater balance between students’ hard work and thriving.