Opinion: Wellness Week needs a temperature check
Students and faculty express feelings of stress over a week of supposed repose
On Oct. 26, American University, upon releasing its plan for the spring semester, decided to cancel spring break “to support the health and safety of our community.” It is a perfectly understandable move, considering what most of the college-aged population does with it. After all, when you google ‘spring break,’ you are greeted with images of crowded parties and intercontinental escapades — a recipe for a never-ending pandemic.
AU is not alone in this decision. Institutions such as Boston University, San Diego State University, University of Michigan, Florida State University, and The Ohio State University have also canceled spring break. These schools encountered an uproar from students in the form of petitions, similarly to AU. This should come as no surprise, considering both the importance of spring break for the average college student under normal circumstances and the mental health crisis spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, an Active Minds survey found that 80 percent of college students report their mental health significantly worsening due to COVID-19.
Therefore, the inevitable consequence of such a cancellation is a burned out student body. In response, AU generously created a so-called Wellness Week. In a memorandum released on Nov.17, AU clarified that synchronous classes would still be held over Zoom, “but the week will be free of written assignments, required reading, quizzes, and exams.” In theory, it’s a sensible way to keep students tethered to their desks whilst ensuring they get at least some sort of break. Ideally, students will have to brave through another few hours of Zoom fatigue, but will then have access to ample free time in order to properly recover.
Wellness Week will commence on March 7 and last until March 13. Yet, concerns from the student body have not yet been quelled. We have been through more than a decade of schooling, and know all of the tricks in a teacher’s book. Most notoriously, and most applicably, we know that some professors will opt to strategically schedule due dates for major projects right after the 13th, effectively canceling out the University’s mental health initiative. In this case, the week would become just another school week. These familiar moves make students question what standards professors will be held to, and whether or not they will be held accountable. It would be a pity for a professor to make an enemy out of his or her students because of poor communication or a misalignment between student expectations and administrative intent. In addition, in-classroom stressors such as requirements for students to leave their Zoom cameras on have not been modified for Wellness Week. Can we truly reset mentally if the University does not implement a voluntary camera policy? Can we ensure that professors will not weaponize our burnout against us in the form of participation point deductions?
Student leadership has been promoting the need for administrators to ensure that workload is evenly distributed, so that students aren’t hit with an avalanche of work before, during and after Wellness Week. It is my hope that this talk manifests into action, and that the administration takes steps to make Wellness Week truly restful. Of course, it is impossible to satisfy the needs of every student, but simple values of transparency and clarity could bolster academic performance, especially in the wake of finals, and mental wellbeing.
Diana Gertsenshteyn is a freshman in the School of International Service and a columnist for The Eagle.