With spring break canceled, students express burnout fears


Hongyu Liu

People walking on Boylston Street.

By Alec Klusza, Assistant News Editor

As the college nears its would-be spring break, some students worry about the mental and academic burnout that might accompany more than three consecutive months of classes.

The college canceled spring break in October to dissuade students from traveling and potentially exacerbating positive COVID-19 tests on-campus and in the city, as well as a way to subvert disruptions on campus caused by a mandatory quarantine period after students return. The college converted the week-long break, normally scheduled for early March, into a series of long weekends integrated into each month. 

The cancelation comes as a turbulent interruption for some students, who say they planned to use the time off for much-needed rest and money-making opportunities. Some mental health experts also say breaks are important for students’ well-being.

First year Theatre and Performance major Kwezi Shongwe said the lack of spring break may cause her to burn out and decrease the quality of her work.

“It’s very upsetting,” Shongwe said. “You’ll be all dried out by the end because it’s all going to be work, work, work, and the breaks always give you time to regroup yourself. Last semester I was online, so I also didn’t really have a holiday, and there was a point where, after midterms, I was completely tired—I was so exhausted.”

Students and faculty could use the break as an opportunity to take time off academic work and care for their mental health, said Kyle Rundles, associate director of counseling services. Without this time, they may feel a strain on their mental health. 

Last semester, 65.6 percent of students who visited Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services this year reported the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health, according to Rundles.

“We’re seeing a lot more anxiety, distraction, or difficulty concentrating—things like that seem to be increasing for everyone over the pandemic,” Rundles said.

Tristan Homewood, a junior visual and media arts major, said he lost the chance to work a part-time job at home in Connecticut over the break.

“I was supposed to work through spring break,” Homewood said. “Because I struggle with paying tuition, I was really depending on that.”

College officials say the cancellation was necessary for the health and safety of the community.

“While mindful of the impact on both students and faculty, the calendar committee considered the health and safety of the campus and decided to have a long weekend in each month rather than the potential for a longer break where travel could occur,” wrote Michaele Whelan, provost and vice president for academic affairs, in an emailed statement to The Beacon.

While Whelan said an extra day off was added to each month of the Spring 2021 academic calendar. Monday, March 12 is the only additional, non-holiday day off added to the calendar; the semester’s other long weekends, including Presidents’ and Patriots Days, were observed in previous years. The semester started a week later than it has in previous years to accommodate the lack of a break.  

Research from the American Psychological Association suggests that, generally, taking breaks—like setting aside vacation time—from both work and recreation helps “restore energy in the short term and prevent burnout in the long term.” Studies from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation—a nonprofit organization funding mental health research—show people who take vacation time away from work are less stressed and are more productive.

Other students feel the cancelation comes as a necessity to prevent a wider outbreak on-campus as positive tests continue to rise. In the fall semester, the positive test total sat at 60 over the four-month testing period. In the spring, the college surpassed that milestone within weeks, with 80 positive tests as of Feb. 24, giving the spring semester a .31 percent positivity rate—compared to the .18 percent positivity rate in the fall semester.

Travel, epidemiologists say, can further drive the virus’s spread.

“I know there are people at the school who would go to places that aren’t as safe as Boston or wouldn’t follow the precautions,” Caitlin Conners, a sophomore communication science and disorders major, said. “We’ve gotten to the point in this pandemic that people start taking it less seriously because they are over it, which I don’t think is right.”

Other colleges in Boston have also slashed their spring breaks. 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.

First year Business of Creative Enterprises major Harry Robinson, said he feels grateful the college has not canceled the semester completely amid the rising positives on-campus.

“I’m just glad that I get the chance to be here,” Robinson said. “I’m glad I’m not sitting in my room in South Carolina right now.”

In the absence of the break, Rundles reiterated students should work to set aside time for their own mental health and self-care.

“Any time we’re not reserving some time to take care of our mental health, that does eventually pile up to have negative impacts,” Rundles said. “Planning out your schedule ahead of time so that if you do have to do some work that you can schedule it while also reserving time for care for your mental health [is important]. Besides those days off, really optimizing time off in any day—making sure self-care is scheduled in your regular days as possible and your regular week.”