Wellness Week replacement of spring break falls flat
Losing spring break still a problem that this initiative does not address
In an email to the University on Nov. 17, Acting Provost Peter Starr announced a new initiative to replace spring break: Wellness Week. Between March 7 and March 13, while classes will still meet synchronously, there will be no written assignments, exams, required readings or quizzes. The goal of this is to relieve stress students are feeling due to the ongoing pandemic, especially as spring break was canceled per President Sylvia Burwell’s email announcing the spring semester plan on Oct. 26. According to the email, spring break was canceled in the interest of preventing further spread of the coronavirus from travel. Winter break has also been extended by one week, with spring classes now beginning on Jan. 19.
This announcement is, frankly, frustrating for students. After it was announced that spring break would be canceled, students were immediately upset by the decision.
While it is understandable that there are instructional time constraints on the University that likely made it difficult to give different days off, if that is due to the extended winter break then the University is proving just how much they do not understand their students. Winter break is normally approximately four weeks long, and by the time it ends most students feel rested and caught up on their lives. Spring break comes right when students need it most around midterms, after what always feels like a marathon semester. Students need time away from assignments, but also away from responsibilities for a week and classes are included in those responsibilities. Similar to the Thanksgiving break experience, spring break is often an excuse to be able to take one, maybe two days off from homework while the rest of the break is spent hunched over textbooks. Spring break is often spent catching up on readings and finishing midterms. Neither of those breaks are the relaxation opportunity that the University seems to think they are due to the amount of work regularly assigned to students.
Adding a week to winter break does nothing to increase student relaxation for the spring semester. Students will already not be as stressed since classes will not have met for almost a month, as opposed to the middle of March when there will be deadlines every other week on top of regularly assigned reading. If students have a week of no deadlines, but then need to turn around and have a project for every class due March 15, that isn’t relaxing. Perhaps if class was canceled, then several deadlines on one day wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, students do not have seven free days since there is still an asynchronous or synchronous class expectation.
The hope is that somehow this will be enforced on professors or they will make sure to comply without then causing such stressful deadlines. But that is a risk, and students will suffer from it.
Professors are also in a difficult position of having to retool syllabi, as they try to figure out what to do in discussion-based classes when there are no readings to discuss. There is serious potential for this week to be a waste of class time in other ways too, if students decide to simply not attend. Throughout this semester, it has been easier than ever to skip class, not pay any attention or to show up and leave as soon as the professor puts students in breakout rooms. With no days away from class, how many students will take the opportunity to quietly hit “Leave Meeting” during the Zoom call?
There also seems to be a misunderstanding about the complaint of Zoom fatigue by both students and professors. Part of Zoom fatigue is the general screen fatigue we all feel between staring at computer screens for class, required readings and writing papers or discussion board posts. This plan will, in theory, cut down on overall screen time. It is Zoom class itself that is fatiguing to students and professors, having to look at faces or more often black boxes on a screen, having to force a conversation in breakout rooms when everyone is too exhausted to care. Still requiring class is not a break for students and does not give anyone a break from Zoom fatigue.
The biggest issue with eliminating spring break in favor of a longer winter break is it being in the interest of health and safety. This spring semester plan is not anywhere close to a return to campus for students. For a majority of the student body, nothing is changing. They will still be living at home, making whatever choices they choose outside the purview of the University, and attending class online. Even as some may move back to D.C., online classes can be done from anywhere, potentially not stopping people from traveling anyway.
This fall was a challenge. Next spring will, potentially, be even more so. There are no easy answers about the best thing to do for students or professors. Maybe giving students a spring break would be a mistake. With the fall quickly coming to a close, it will be a challenge come January to look toward May with no sufficient break from class in sight. At a minimum, it is disheartening for students. This replacement of a break with Wellness Week does not meet students’ needs during the pandemic, and there must be other options that are better. Instead of more winter break, sporadic three or four day weekends would have given students the necessary breathing room to complete assignments. With no break from school, the spring will likely be a semester of unwellness, and the University needs to be prepared for mental health complaints and academic struggles from their students. We can only hope they understand this time.