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Why Teachers Requiring Cameras on During Zoom University is Problematic

When I told my mom (an elementary school French teacher) and my sister (a karate teacher) that this was what I was planning on writing my article about, they burst out laughing. “This is how you can tell you’ve never taught someone on Zoom!” my sister annoyingly said. Well, I convinced them, and hopefully, by the end of this, I can convince you too, why college professors requiring cameras on during a Zoom class is an issue for so many reasons.

It’s an invasion of privacy.

I live in a tiny apartment (the size of two dorm rooms stuck together) with three other college students. The way my roommate and I's desks are angled, I will always be in her Zoom camera view, and she will be in mine. Our whole room is in both of our camera views, and throughout the day, someone is always on Zoom.

One could see how this could cause an issue. 

Sometimes she’ll be in the shower, or I’ll be changing for work. If someone wants a change of scenery, to sit in the kitchen maybe, that means that the rest of the roommates will either need to adjust their routines as to not be in the camera frame, or we will have to make the decision to have a classroom of 100+ kids we don’t know watch us make lunch in our PJs. A teacher has the right to see you in class, sure. But they do not have the right to see my dirty laundry on my bed, my roommate’s at-home workout in the corner, or my other roommate pacing the hallway while on the phone with her mom. Our environments as college students are shared, and it is an invasion of privacy and disrespectful to our peers to demand access to them.

People are creepy.

I am sure that everyone’s seen the jokes on TikTok where students will use a Zoom feature to “pin” an attractive boy or girl in their class on their screen…and stare at them. I myself have taken pictures of my Zoom screen for a variety of reasons, and many times I have seen people put on private social media channels pictures of people from their Zoom classes. I’m sorry, but as someone with social anxiety, someone I don’t know pinning my video on their laptop screen and staring at me during class is my worst nightmare. Like, I bite my nails! I slouch a lot! If I am being honest, I have a lot of gross habits that you don’t need to see. In a normal classroom setting, every student does not have a zoomed in close-up of all 250 people in their class's faces. I don’t see why any of my classmates are entitled to a 1 hour and 15 minute livestream of my face. Nor does this unprecedented access to my pores enrich any student's educational expierience.

Did anyone forget these lectures are recorded?

Going back to me biting my nails. I do not need that video living on in infamy forever on some random professor’s computer. Like please. So unnecessary. 

Zoom is literally not set up to work that way.

Trust me, I know. In the early days of the pandemic, I would frequently be on larger Zoom calls with my dance studio from home and we quickly realized that when 50+ people had their cameras on, Zoom became incredibly slow. That is literally the point of features like "Speaker View" and "Webinars." I’m sorry to my marketing professor, but if all 300 of us had our cameras on, the quality of our learning experience would go down a ton.

It's distracting.

We live in an image-obsessed society. The second I turn my camera on in class, looking at the professor’s image is no longer my biggest priority. Instead, my biggest priority is my own video. I immediately judge how I look, how my hair looks, if I should put makeup on, how my desk lamp lighting make me look on camera. I stare at myself at least 50% of the class. Again, let’s go back to the fact that someone could literally have my video pinned and be staring at me right now, so forgive me if I want to fix my hair. I know I am not alone in this, I have heard from many other college-aged women that they also focus less on class when their camera is on. I would go so far as to say that college students focus less on class when anyone’s camera is on. There is more to get distracted by.

Why do you need my video on anyways? Like seriously. Why.

Isn’t this college? This isn’t elementary school French class or middle school karate class. It’s a college lecture hall. Let’s be honest, professor, you never knew if I was actually paying attention in an in-person class, did you? Why does it truly matter to you if I join the Zoom call and walk away? Isn’t college about being responsible for oneself and one’s own choices? I have all the empathy in the world when it comes to educators during this pandemic. They have one of the hardest jobs. However, college lecturers are just that: lecturers. The way the college system is structured, it should not matter to the lecturer whether or not my camera is on.

I would like to end this by saying I am not anti-camera. There are times when it truly is essential, and there are times when I am excited and happy to turn my camera on for class. I simply have an issue with professors mandating it and with them guilt-tripping students for not having their cameras on. 

Why has having one's camera on suddenly become a test to see who actually cares about this class? Why does it seem like if I do not have my camera on, I am less important and less worthy of a student? Maybe my roommate just came out of the shower, maybe I have a pimple I’m embarrassed about, or maybe I just had a rough day and don’t feel like having myself broadcasted to 200 people when I can just simply sit here and take notes. Or maybe I am in the car with friends! Maybe I am actually napping in class. I think after the year of college we’ve had, none of us can be blamed for that either.

Natalie Bronfine

U Mass Amherst '23

I'm a Sophomore Marketing major from New Hampshire! I'm passionate about dance, travel, the beach, cats, and ice cream :)
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