In pre-pandemic times, spring break is a time for rest and relaxation or Project X level partying. I’ve not seen much of an in-between. This is the second spring break in a row thwarted by the pandemic, and schools across the country are taking action by swapping out spring break for mental health days, rest and recovery days, or in USC’s case, wellness days scattered throughout the spring semester.
The phrase “impact over intent” is familiar to many and applies to this exact scenario. USC intended to take away spring break so that students would not use it as an opportunity to travel or spread the coronavirus further. Unfortunately, this is not the impact as those who wish to travel will do so anyways because the remote environment provides the opportunity to learn from anywhere which is unfortunately misused.
It’s important to first understand why this action is frustrating for many students before discussing why wellness days are an ineffective recuperative period.
It is not uncommon to see USC students traveling purely for leisure and flaunting their trip that didn’t include a period of mandated quarantine on social media. On almost any given day, there are parties on The Row or in USC affiliated, not owned, apartment buildings that students post themselves attending.
Per a September 2, 2020 memorandum sent to all USC students, the university enumerated its plans to hold students and organizations violating guidelines accountable, yet this has not materialized. It begs the question, why not do the hard, necessary work to stop the super spreaders that provide publicly accessible documentation of their blatant disregard when the university has the ability to do so?
I believe it’s because this is difficult to do and taking away spring break is easier to implement and requires less work. Additionally, it’s USC’s simple way to gain positive press and come across toward the greater community as taking coronavirus seriously.
Providing wellness days in lieu of spring break allows USC administration to feel like they are doing enough to stop travel. Yet, it actually proves that the administration remains out of touch with how taking away spring break negatively impacts students.
The remote environment is draining and provides new sources of stress for many students. Those who follow the rules most directly feel the repercussions of no spring break as there is no time to recover or disconnect.
Coming off of the first out of five wellness days, I feel an unwavering sense of dread. I did not have any sense of wellness from having the day off from classes. I don’t have Friday classes, but since it’s the middle of midterm season, this weekend was filled with work and studying. For those who I know have Friday classes and benefitted from not having them, their experience of working through the wellness day was not much different.
Professors are coming at wellness days with mixed actions. Some are acknowledging the importance of having time to rest and made an effort to assign less work this weekend so that their class would not be another source of stress on a day intended for rest. Others have acted cavalier toward the idea and brushed off its importance.
For example, a friend of mine experienced a professor saying how they should relax on Friday, but they need to put forth their best effort on an assignment worth a significant portion of their grade due Sunday night.
I had a professor already schedule an assignment to be due after a future wellness day and said we could use our wellness day to work more on it if we didn’t want to work on it during the religious holidays of Passover and Easter.
When wellness days were originally announced, the administration emphasized that professors would be at minimum mindful of not assigning work during wellness days. Student skepticism was the immediate response to this, and it is justified.
There is room for improving the next four wellness days’ experience, although the damage of not providing ample time for students to rest from the chaos of this semester is already done.
Spring break is a Monday through Friday period. The least students expected from wellness days was that they would also be on each of these days scattered through the semester. Instead, two of the five wellness days are scheduled on Fridays. Friday is the day with the least, or zero, classes for students. The mere fact two of the wellness days are on Fridays comes off as a calculated measure to not truly provide students with a break.
One day is not enough to have a significant change in wellbeing.
That should not be a surprising statement for anyone. My hope is that the subsequent wellness days are taken more seriously by professors. It’s hypocritical to support wellness days then assign work due immediately or shortly thereafter one that is worth a majority of the overall class grade. Just as students have had to adjust to no spring break, professors can adjust course plans and syllabi.
Students need to voice their concerns to the administration and hopefully, if there is a large enough number of complaints, they will be heard.