SGA passes new legislation demanding modified spring break

A+Student+Government+Association+meeting+from+the+spring+semester.

Photo: The Berkeley Beacon Archives

A Student Government Association meeting from the spring semester.

By Frankie Rowley, Content Managing Editor

The Student Government Association passed its first piece of spring semester legislation, “An Act To Advocate For The Community’s Well-Being” Monday night after students expressed burnout as a result of the college’s decision to cancel spring break. 

“An Act To Advocate For The Community’s Well-Being” was drafted by Annie Noel, Patty Tamayo, and members of SGA’s Legislative Review Board. The act calls for some form of modified spring break in lieu of the traditional week-long break canceled in October to curb travel that could drive COVID-19 transmission. The legislation was developed after the organization circulated a Google Form to elicit community member’s opinions on the cancelation and gauge interest in a variety of solutions. 

SGA proposed five solutions to the college “as a guide for the administration and faculty to create a modified spring break,” including a five-day break for the week of March 15, an extended weekend from March 12 to 16, a period of no assignments for the week of March 15, the reinstitution of optional pass/fail grading, and asynchronous class days for the week of March 15. A “none of the above” option was also included. 

“If none of the above solutions are viable, we request that the College present an alternative solution(s) that would address the needs of the community in terms of well-being and productivity,” the act said. 

Following SGA’s launch of the Google Form, Tamayo, who was introduced to the initiative by co-author Noel during a class they share, immediately wanted to get involved. She was added to the email list and began attending meetings to discuss the legislation. Neither Tamayo nor Noel are members of SGA. 

Get This Week's News

All the big stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning 

The survey garnered 1,702 responses from community members, all but four of whom were students. Of the responses, 800 were reported within twelve hours of the survey’s publication.

In the form, 43 percent of respondents said they were “very exhausted,” with 87 percent responding the currently scheduled “free” day off on March 12 was not enough to recuperate from the stressors of the semester. 97.6 percent said they supported a modified spring break as long as COVID-19 policies stay in place, with the most popular option—at 52 percent—being a five-day break. 

The data provided by students in the survey, Tamayo says, increases the legitimacy of the community’s needs in the eyes of the college due to the overwhelming response, and consideration of the legalities of creating a modified spring break. 

“We wanted to do it very data-driven and precise because we understand that there are other issues outside of the college’s hands,” Tamayo said. “We wanted to make sure that the administration knew that we are thinking about all the repercussions that this would have.”

Vice President and Dean for Campus Life Jim Hoppe said some members of SGA were slated to meet with the Calendar Committee Thursday to discuss the legislation.

“We’re looking at a wide variety of possible solutions, some are institution-wide and some are more cohort-specific,” Hoppe said. “What might feel like a solution to one student in one class might not work for another type of class. So probably the ideal, end result is probably going to look more individualized.”

The act also provides a disclaimer about the proposed solutions, noting SGA took into account the risks associated with a spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the accreditation requirements—educational standards an educational institution must meet to achieve the school’s objectives—Emerson must meet. 

The act states that though some solutions were more popular than others, combining solutions is a viable route for the college to take, such as combining asynchronous class days with no assignment days. 

SGA also proposed that COVID-19 testing should be mandatory during the break in order to bar students from travelling. If a student were to travel during the break, they would have to be quarantined for two weeks. 

Michaele Whelan, provost and vice president for academic affairs, declined The Beacon’s request for comment but confirmed she received SGA’s legislation.

Executive President Lindsay Debrosse said she felt “really good” about passing the legislation. 

“We were able to do this relatively quickly,” Debrosse said in an interview. “ [The college] not acknowledging [the need for a break] is detrimental in the long run because if kids don’t receive that break a lot of them are going to think about not coming back [to Emerson] or finding alternative ways of going to school [in order to give themselves a break] or not going to school in the upcoming semesters [due to lack of a break].”

Debrosse said she feels uncertain about the pending response from the college—which the act says is expected by the end of the day Thursday—saying she hopes they respect the needs of the community and prioritizes that over the legal aspects of creating a modified break. 

“I’m going to be honest with you, it’s going to come to not going to class,” Debrosse said. “I feel [if] push comes to shove, kids are going to take that break regardless … if nothing is done, or nothing is able to be done, I think students will start making their own choices and taking things into their own hands.”

Echoing Debross, Tamayo said she doesn’t believe this is a situation where the college can stand idly by. 

“I don’t think that this is a situation where the college can just say there’s nothing we can do, especially because the college has done some incredible things,” Tamayo said. “We ended up all going home in less than a week, so to say that the college can’t take extreme measures if it comes down to the health of the students is just simply wrong … the health of the students has to be the first priority and there isn’t just one side of students’ health.”