Camera shy: why Zoom cameras create discomfort


We need to create comfortable solutions for students who are already experiencing new challenges brought on by COVID-19, and making students turn on their camera is not a comfortable solution. 

Last week, my professor made a statement in my Zoom class regarding attendance which shook my typical Tuesday afternoon. He said, “It would be irresponsible of me to ask you to turn on your Zoom cameras.” This statement posed an inquiry for me, ironically made in my methods of inquiry class; should a Zoom camera be required during an online class?

There are quite a few things to consider. What I’ll cover will be the privacy of the student, the hackable issues with Zoom and the mental state of the student. 

First and foremost will be the concept of privacy seeing as I find this detrimental to what Webster University claims to stand for, diversity and inclusion. Inclusion includes acknowledgment of differing economic positions students may be in because statistically students of lower income households tend to be people of color. 

So where does this fall into place with privacy? Well, students turning on their cameras can be more difficult for people in lower income households because they have smaller spaces and bigger households. Turning on a camera at home in a way reveals the social class of the student, which should be private. To solve this issue, a lot of professors propose that the student message them and tell them about their situation. However, I find this method a bit ridiculous considering they are asking the student to expose themselves in a private way in order for the student to be able to turn off the camera. 

The second issue is the fact that Zoom has been hacked before, and each student should get the choice to turn off the camera to maintain privacy in case classrooms get hacked. Zoom is an open app which makes it easy to hack through fake emails and meeting IDs. This is a reason why different universities across the country have banned the app entirely when it comes to online classes. 

With Zoom, there is always a chance of someone invading the classroom. Turning off the camera can help regarding the information about students obtained by hackers through Zoom. Students should get the option to turn off their cameras as a choice to negate potential hacking by limiting the information received by the hacker. Hacking is where cameras become a safety issue. 

Lastly, the mental state of the student should always be taken into account when looking at camera usage on Zoom. The home is a space for students with mental health issues to relax. Bringing class into that environment is already adding stress to that safe space, and making students turn on their camera can make matters worse. 

I will use myself as an example. I was diagnosed with PTSD and an anxiety disorder when I was 16. Due to my PTSD, my anxiety amplifies at random moments and there is no uniformity when it comes to my panic attacks. One day, I could be perfectly fine turning on my camera. The next day, I could hear a loud noise which ramps up my anxiety for the day and I need my room as a space to unwind. On those days I find myself not wanting to turn the camera on at all in order to decrease my stress at home. I should not have to outline my 18 years of trauma to my professor while my anxiety is up just to make it acceptable to turn off my camera. I can guarantee I am not the only student who feels this way. 

Mental health is a huge aspect to the question of Zoom cameras because 10 sets of eyes looking at you in your safe space does not help if a student has mental illness to deal with. A student should not have to expose their mental state to a professor in order to turn off the camera. That can be deeply disturbing for folks like me who already get into a massive state of anxiety when talking about their issues. There is a reason therapy is hard, because talking about your trauma is extremely difficult. Asking a student to recount their issues to a therapist is mentally challenging, let alone talking to a professor. 

The issues surrounding privacy, hackability and mental health are reasons to not make students turn on their cameras during class. We need to create comfortable solutions for students who are already experiencing new challenges brought on by COVID-19, and making students turn on their camera is not a comfortable solution. 

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Kieron Kessler
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