Illustration by Joshua Sun
After living through a pandemic for the past year, most of us are exhausted. The extended hours of screen time, lack of contact with friends and family, and looming fear of the virus has taken a toll on most peoples’ mental health. With the added stress of hybrid classes and pandemic fatigue, academic burnout is imminent if students and faculty are not granted a break.
In October 2020, the faculty union voted on a revised academic calendar for the spring 2021 semester that eliminated spring break, which usually falls in the first week of March. In lieu of the break, the spring semester began a week later than usual. Students were granted a “free day off” on March 12 (on a Friday, when many students do not have class), as well as the typical days off for Presidents’ Day in February and Patriots’ Day in April.
Emerson community members need a break now more than ever—one extra day off on a day when most people already do not have class is not enough. We understand this decision was made to prevent students from traveling over the break, which could cause them to bring COVID-19 back to campus. But now is the time for creative solutions, as community members have made clear that a spring break is essential to mitigating burnout.
The Student Government Association is pushing for a “week of rest” that could give community members a few extra days off. SGA garnered more than 1,700 responses on a Google Form asking for community input, of which 97.6 percent of respondents said they would support a modified spring break.
The form asked students to rank potential solutions, with options that could include a five-day break from classes, a period of no assignments, and a pass-fail option for end of the semester grades, among other solutions. By far the most popular choice from respondents was the five-day break, followed by an extended weekend, and a no assignments period.
SGA passed legislation calling for a modified spring break on Monday, including a full breakdown of the Google Form responses. College officials are expected to respond to the legislation by the end of the day on March 11—although it is unclear at this time what action the college may take in response to the SGA legislation, if any at all.
Michaele Whelan, provost and vice president of academic affairs, told The Beacon in a story published last week that the college cannot modify the academic calendar after it is finalized.
“The length of term, time in class, and days in a semester are compliance points that need to be met in order to maintain regional accreditation and federal financial aid regulations,” Whelan wrote in an email to The Beacon. “While we would have preferred to provide a spring break to the community, there was no way to do so. Therefore, the attempt was to create alternative breaks, which could not be as long.”
It’s understandable that Emerson is hesitant to allow a spring break, as it could be hard to prevent student travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have made clear, after all, that travel increases likelihood for spreading COVID-19. For this reason, we believe the college should enforce a strict no overnight travel rule during a potential week of rest, as they do when classes are in session. It may even be necessary to enforce a three times weekly testing requirement during this break, or perhaps regular check-ins with resident assistants to ensure students are residing in their dorms.
We agree there is a need to mitigate spread of the virus—nobody wants to see a COVID outbreak on the Emerson campus. But it’s hard to believe there is no possible way to allow a safe week of rest, especially when the college already enforces travel restrictions. Supporting the community’s mental health should be a priority, even if that means the added effort of enforcing additional travel barriers.
There may not be a completely foolproof way to ensure that every student is adhering to college rules at all times—yet that doesn’t change the fact that time off is essential for productivity and mental health. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2019 found that when given time off, people are generally less stressed and anxious, better rested, and more creative. This time off is even more important due to the negative impact the pandemic has had on college students’ mental health.
SGA’s Google form found that 81 percent of respondents felt exhausted or very exhausted at the time of taking the survey. Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services told The Beacon in October that 65.6 percent of Emerson students who visited ECAPS in the fall attributed the pandemic to the worsening of their mental health.
The pandemic has also taken its toll on professors and faculty. A Course Hero study from November found 74 percent of college faculty had experienced significant stress from adapting to teaching during the pandemic, and more than 40 percent considered leaving their positions due to the impact COVID-19 had on their positions.
Time and time again, we’ve seen institutions like Emerson fail to take students and faculty’s mental health into account. After the findings of SGA’s form, it is clear that the community needs a modified spring break to mitigate burnout. If there is truly no wiggle room within the academic calendar for a week of rest, then the college must find another solution. Our community is tired, and we deserve to have our needs addressed by the college.
The Berkeley Beacon Editorial Board is the voice of the student newspaper that looks to serve the Emerson College community with thoughtful insight into ongoings and occurrences affecting their everyday lives. The board’s positions are determined by its members. The board consists of the editor-in-chief, managing editors, and opinion editors. The opinions expressed by the Editorial Board do not impact the paper’s coverage. You can respond to a position brought forward by The Beacon Editorial Board in the form of a Letter to The Editor by email: Letters@BerkeleyBeacon.com.