Students
Illustration by Kalle Wolters

Skipping class made easy

The Covid excuse

Illustration by Kalle Wolters
The Covid pandemic has made it extremely easy for students to get out of study activities. At least a third of them use Covid-related symptoms as an excuse, an UKrant poll shows.
By Zoë Mostajir and Christien Boomsma
1 February om 9:40 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 1 February 2022
om 9:40 uur.
February 1 at 9:40 AM.
Last modified on February 1, 2022
at 9:40 AM.

Floor doesn’t hesitate to use an excuse to get out of going to a mandatory class. ‘Oh, sure’, the communications premaster student says. ‘When I’m hungover, for instance.’

It’s nothing new, really; students have been coming up with excuses to get out of obligations for as long as those obligations have existed. Every lecturer has seen the emails about dead grandmas, food poisoning, or mysteriously broken laptops.

Just to be safe

But while you can only have so many grandmas or laptops die on you, Covid is an excuse you can use over and over again. ‘If you tell your lecturer that you have a cough, they’ll always tell you to stay home, just to be safe’, says Floor. ‘You don’t even have to use the word Covid. Naming a symptom is enough.’

There’s so much pressure on us to not miss a single lecture or seminar.

Floor gladly makes use of this. Students are already suffering so much from the pandemic, she says, ‘so we should be allowed to abuse it a little, too’.

Floor is one of the more than two hundred students who responded to a non-representative UKrant survey asking students about using Covid as an excuse. 

Ubiquitous

Covid is the ideal excuse: the symptoms are ubiquitous and can’t be checked. In fact, lecturers aren’t even allowed to ask students for proof, since that’s private medical information. It’s also socially unacceptable to tell students to come to class anyway: after all, we have to fight the virus together.

A little more than half of students who filled out the survey said they’ve used excuses to get out of a study-related activity. 15 percent does this fairly regularly: at least once a month. 

One student, who says he never uses an excuse because he’s genuinely sick far too often, says he understands why others would. ‘There’s so much pressure on us to not miss a single lecture or seminar. They say being ill is our problem to solve, even if there’s nothing we can.’

‘I have to go all the way to Zernike for a mandatory class at 9 in the morning, when they could have just recorded it and put it online’, another student says.

It’s clear to see that Covid is a popular excuse. At least two thirds of students say that the pandemic has made it easier to get out of study-related activities. 

Interestingly enough, only a third says they actually use Covid symptoms as an excuse. They usually do so to get out of mandatory seminars (32 percent), lectures (more than 11 percent), or skipping study dates with other students (11.5 percent).

‘I live partially at home and partially in a room in the city’, says religious sciences student Zita. ‘When I have to travel to Groningen on Monday morning for a 9 o’clock class I’ll use an excuse sometimes. I’ll say I’m exhibiting symptoms or that I’m not feeling well.’

Training

Engineering management student Wietske, who rows competitively, will also use Covid as an excuse to give herself some extra time off. ‘When I have to go to training or something else that’s important.’

A good excuse has to be plausible, and you have to get away with it

20 percent of students say they regularly hear people using Covid as an excuse, while a little less than 35 percent say they’ve never heard of anyone using it. 

That’s no surprise. ‘You can basically use anything as an excuse, including Covid, as long as there’s potentially reasonable context’, social psychologist Arie Dijkstra explains. ‘A good excuse has to be plausible, and you have to get away with it. Using Covid as an excuse works perfectly, because no one will ever find out.’

Worried?

He witnessed for himself how students use the excuse when he started teaching live classes again earlier this academic year. Only 10 percent of the students who’d signed up for his class actually showed up. Was he supposed to believe they were all worried about Covid? ‘I don’t, not for a second’, says Dijkstra. ‘I was also teaching online classes, and those had an even lower attendance rate.’

However, this then leads to new issues, he says, especially because it’s impossible to verify whether a student is actually ill. ‘The excuse is based on an integrity issue; no one wants to infect their parents with something they can’t grasp, since you can’t see the virus. On top of that, it’s almost impossible to check. So students can use it for whatever they want.’ 

But is this acceptable? Is it okay to take advantage of a problem as serious as Covid? 35 percent of the students who filled out the survey say it is, but the majority of respondents disagreed.

Lie

Students who don’t mind it say that students using the excuse probably have a good reason, but that this reason isn’t as acceptable. ‘I think you could call it a form of social lying.’

It’s already caused such a mess at the university that I think it’s fine to use as an excuse

Other students don’t think it’s at all safe to attend classes during the pandemic. Yet others point out that there’s a reason people feel the need to use an excuse, not matter what that reason is. ‘The problem lies in why students think it’s necessary to lie in order to get out of a situation’, one student remarked.

Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of 65 percent of students who filled out the survey feel that people shouldn’t use Covid as an excuse. ‘It erodes the credibility of students who do have Covid, which could lead to fewer people thinking it’s okay to stay home when you have Covid’, one student feared. 

Serious

‘Covid is a serious illness, and people should just take responsibility for their assignments’, another student says.

‘To be fair, I know it’s not actually okay’, Wietske admits. ‘But everyone does it, and it’s caused such a mess at the university that I think it’s fine to use as an excuse.’

How do lecturers feel about it? They’ll probably just let it go. In part because it’s difficult to verify, but also because accusing a student of making up an excuse is just not worth the effort. 

Live with it

‘If an excuse doesn’t negatively affect anyone directly, it’s easier to just accept it’, says Dijkstra. ‘You’ll never find out the truth and accusing someone of lying will damage your relationship. If someone’s lying, they’ll have to live with it. Besides, you don’t want people doubting everything you say, either. So staying quiet benefits you as well.’

However, there comes a moment when using an excuse becomes too dangerous, says Dijkstra. ‘That’s when everything changes. That’s when they’ll stop using the excuse.’

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