It seems that many people believe strongly in the idea of work ethic. Many people believe that many problems can be worked through.  This is especially true when it comes to work and of course in universities. It is believed that students who do poorly in classes are simply “not applying themselves” or are “lazy” (of course sometimes they are simply deemed unintelligent or incompetent in the field). And sure sometimes students do not apply themselves. Sometimes students have little interest in the class or are missing foundational information. But the problem is that it is not too often that students are asked why they are not performing well.

There are a variety of reasons students may  not perform well in school, aside from the undefined “work ethic”. Student may be working two jobs and going to school. Students may be parents and have to prioritize their children over homework. Students may have gone to underfunded and under-resourced schools, which puts them at a disadvantage as compared to their peers that attended schools in wealthy neighborhoods. Students may be immigrants and be struggling with reading academic texts in a language foreign to them. And students may in fact be living with mental health issues.

Imagine for a minute that you are an individual living with depression. You are constantly unmotivated, tired, and sad. You have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. You cry unexpectedly. You feel hopeless in many instances.  But you really want to do well in your classes. You do your best to power through and study. There are instances when you are barely awake but you write your papers anyways. It takes you 5 times the effort it does for someone without psychological disorders, but you show up to class.

Now imagine being told that you have “poor work ethic” and that you should “apply yourself more”. You are struggling everyday and really truly trying to do your best. Yet people look down on you and write you off because your grades don’t “show” it.

What if mental health and psychological disorders were not stigmatized? What if work ethic was not based on productivity relative to mentalist and ableist standards but instead took into account different experiences? What if success in academia/universities was measured not only by the amount of work produced but the content of the work produced with positive recognition of the experiences and realities of the individual?