AU will replace spring break with ‘Wellness Week’

Synchronous classes will continue, but assignments and exams are canceled for the week

AU will replace spring break with ‘Wellness Week’
Cherry blossoms in bloom on an empty campus.

Update: This story has been updated since it was originally published with comments from Acting Provost Peter Starr.

American University will replace spring break with a week aimed at promoting student well-being, according to an email Acting Provost Peter Starr sent to students on Tuesday.

Wellness Week will take place from March 7 through March 13, and Starr said the University hopes the week gives students relief from stress caused by the pandemic.

“Classes will still meet synchronously or move forward with asynchronous material, but the week will be free of written assignments, required reading, quizzes, and exams,” the email said. “We hope that this Wellness Week—along with the extension of Winter Break—will offer some measure of rest and relaxation during these challenging times.”

The University released its initial spring semester plan last month, which included expanding some in-person operations and canceling spring break to try to prevent a spike in cases after travel, according to an email sent out by President Sylvia Burwell on Oct. 26.

In an interview with The Eagle, Starr said that around 4,300 students are living in the DMV.

“If all of our students were living elsewhere, not living in the District, then it might be a bit less of a worry, but we have a lot of students here, and we need to be responsive to our larger community, the neighbors and our faculty and staff who interact with the students who come to campus, in trying to keep everybody as safe as we possibly can,” he said.

Burwell also wrote in October’s announcement that AU would extend winter break by one week, with spring semester classes starting on Jan. 19.

The decision to convert spring break to Wellness Week was completely conceived after the initial cancellation of spring break, Starr said.

One option the University considered was to break up spring break and make it into several long weekends throughout the semester, but the administration decided against this because it worried it would cause students to travel more frequently throughout the semester, Starr said.

Another option was to give students five days off sprinkled throughout the semester, a decision based off of Yale University’s spring semester plan. In conversations with students, the Faculty Senate and deans, many expressed dissatisfaction with that plan, Starr said.

“We did some conversations with student leaders and with the Faculty Senate and deans, and a lot of people said about that model, 'well a day off here and there just can’t mean much. I need to decompress a bit,’” Starr said.

Student leaders in one of the schools suggested to a dean of that school during a meeting that AU have a week without assignments.

“We thought that it was the best of a series of sub-optimal alternatives,” Starr said. “It was just the one that felt best for us.”

Starr added that the University realizes the problems with all of the plans.

“We want to do everything we can to have an approach that mitigates risk on balance,” Starr said. “Every single one of the alternatives had risks. The risk of ceding five days off throughout the semester was that students wouldn’t get a sense of being able to decompress. We trust our students to do the right thing. We’ll be messaging about the risks associated with travel.”

The announcement does not apply to certain programs, such as four-term calendar programs and other graduate programs on special calendars, according to Starr’s email.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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