In the time of online classes, many professors are seeking ways to connect virtually with students via Zoom. Some require students to keep their cameras on during online courses to monitor their participation and make sure they’re paying attention or to learn their faces.
However, forcing students to turn on their cameras when they are not comfortable is harmful and exclusionary to students.
Instead of pressuring students to do something they aren’t comfortable with, professors need to encourage students to participate in other ways, including responding in the Zoom chat, polls or talking audibly.
Some students do not want to turn their cameras on for a variety of reasons. Some have distracting background environments, technology issues or do not feel comfortable with their camera on.
Government sophomore Anayeli Espinoza said that mandatory video policies are too strict. Last semester, Espinoza had a class where it was mandatory to keep her camera on. If a student tried to turn it off, they were instructed to turn it back on.
“I would prefer if it was optional, as sometimes there can be complications with technology or I am not ready to be on camera all the time,” Espinoza said.
While not all professors have mandatory on-camera policies, many encourage students to have their videos on when they can. For example, I have professors who allow for a student’s camera to be turned off with proper justification. This has the right intentions behind it, but the outcomes can still be damaging.
Students should not have to justify their discomfort in order to be off camera. Professors need to acknowledge student discomfort and find methods to ease it, not make it worse.
I understand professors want to learn the faces of their students. However, forcing students out of their comfort zones is not a good way to get to know them. It tells students their mental health does not matter. It tells students their comfort does not matter. It tells students they are less than if they are not on camera.
In addition, it is crucial for professors to understand that students who have their cameras off are not automatically disengaged.
“To assume that a student is not paying attention or not giving their best effort just because a student’s camera isn’t on, or they aren’t being as vocal as they might be in the physical classroom setting, creates a toxic environment for all students,” said Sofia Ostrowski, youth and community studies junior.
In fact, I argue that students engage more when they are met with an environment that accepts all forms of participation. Some students feel more comfortable participating vocally or through the chat function when they have their cameras off. Professors allowing them to do this helps all members of the class succeed.
Intentional or not, mandatory on-camera policies are hurting students. Professors must stop requiring students to keep their cameras on over Zoom.
Promote inclusivity and empathy in your classroom, and your students will be better for it.
Cardone is a government and social work sophomore from San Antonio, Texas.