Emerson Faculty Assembly passes Flexibility Week and Wellness Passes


Courtesy of Isabel Indresano

A meeting of professor Nancy Allen’s Plagues and Pandemics course in the fall semester.

By Frankie Rowley, Content Managing Editor

Emerson’s Faculty Assembly voted to approve two spring break alternatives, wellness passes and a “flexibility week” on Friday, meant to alleviate stress and burnout for students in light of the October cancelation of spring break.

Wellness passes and “flexibility week” are intended to serve as a compromise for students demanding an actual break, which the college said it could not do as a result of accreditation and financial aid requirements. Wellness passes are redeemable at any time throughout the semester as a one-time excused absence per course. The flexibility week, which spans March 22 to March 26, allows professors to “reduce the pressure of assignments” by extending due dates, holding more asynchronous class days, and other class-specific solutions. 

Emerson canceled the break in October, which college officials said was an effort to discourage students from traveling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. To offset the lack of a break, the college pushed back the start of the semester by a week and added a “free day off” on March 12. 

In the March 15 email announcing the alternatives, Vice President and Dean for Campus Life Jim Hoppe and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan said they did all they could to give students a break without jeopardizing the college in other areas. 

“While diverging from the proposals in the SGA legislation, [the plan] provides relief for students and respects how difficult it would be for faculty to make major adjustments in their already established teaching schedules and designs in the College’s flex hybrid modality so late in the semester,” a March 20 email from Hoppe and Chair of Faculty Assembly Heather May said.

The Student Government Association initiative passed on March 8 that spurred the two alternatives—An Act To Advocate For The Community’s Well-Being—suggested five options, ranging from a five-day break to a period of no assignments, all of which Emerson said would not be legally or logistically viable.    

Communications Professor Vincent Raynauld, a member of the calendar committee, said the two new policies are a product of figuring out loopholes to give students a break without jeopardizing the college’s accreditation. 

“We worked with [SGA] to fine-tune everything, but we weighed out every scenario that students proposed,” Raynauld said in an interview with The Beacon. “If we were to take a five-day break, we need to make that up somewhere.” 

Raynauld said the college’s solutions offer students the independence to gauge their individual needs.

”It gives students the agency to be able to choose when they want to take a break,” he said. “It creates an environment where people can get relief when they need it, yet the class can still operate in a way that’s not disruptive to everybody.” 

Many students, however, say these solutions fall short. SGA ushered out a subsequent petition following the announcement of the wellness passes and flexibility week, prior to the approval by the faculty assembly on March 19, asking students if they would rather take days off and replace them with Saturday classes or add additional days to the end of the semester to make up the days taken off. 

The college has made no mention of any progress with that petition, but Whelan repeatedly told The Beacon no changes could be made to the academic calendar once it was finalized.  

Doran McCormack, a sophomore visual and media arts major, said the solutions avoided addressing the issues at hand. 

“It’s all part of the same theme at Emerson,” McCormack said. “Look at what happened last November [during the ESOC Week of Action]. Students have to fight for things that Emerson should have addressed. For example, right now, people’s mental health and burnout and COVID fatigue should have been addressed [at the start of the semester] and gave us a week of wellness right when we came in. But that’s just not the case. It just makes you [ask]: Are you really valued?”

McCormack said the one-time wellness passes are a way to “cut corners.” 

“It doesn’t matter [if] Emerson would give us one wellness pass, two wellness passes for class,” McCormack said. “All this kind of crap is just dodging giving us the time off that all students are entitled to—and it’s not like other universities aren’t doing it.”

Myriad colleges in Boston have also slashed their spring breaks and developed a range of substitutions. Tufts University canceled its spring break outright and replaced it with a long weekend in March, and Boston University added “wellness days” off on March 18 and 31. Suffolk University will have a “mid-semester-break-day” in March, and Northeastern University canceled their break but did not add any extra days off.

Luke Colombero, a first-year theatre and performance major, said wellness passes and a flexibility week weren’t adequate substitutions for the week off he said he is in need of. 

“It’s disrupting classes [because professors are trying to] adjust their whole schedule around this flexibility [week],” Colombero said. “It’s probably going to put everyone behind, then for the wellness passes, [there’s no] wiggle room. You can’t use it on [quiz and presentation days and] those are the days students are going to want to use them the most.” 

With hordes of students reporting their mental health is continuing to suffer, Colombero said a regular weeklong spring break would have been the most helpful for students. 

“One week off would help so many of the students here,” he said. “I’m lucky that I take care of [myself], a lot of students don’t have the same access to resources or community that would keep them mentally healthy.”