Rebecca Goldberg ’22, who is currently taking a leave of absence, was waiting until the administration announced the spring schedule to decide what she would do for the upcoming semester. When Yale revealed that next term would not include a spring recess, she decided to take the whole year off.
Goldberg is not alone in her concern about the lack of break in the upcoming term. When the University announced its spring schedule, social media erupted with students citing mental health concerns as they undertake 14 weeks of classes without a traditional two-week spring break. In the first few hours after the news broke, Twitter had more than 20 posts on the topic, while a post about the plan on Yale’s popular Facebook meme page had 540 reactions and over 60 comments. Students noted the challenges of balancing academics, extracurriculars and social life — all during a pandemic — as well as concerns that the five individual break days would not allow for sufficient self-care.
“I’ve definitely seen the impact on a lot of my enrolled friends on what it’s like to be pushed for the full semester without having the usual October break,” Goldberg said. “That kind of constant push and lack of a boundary between work and relaxation seems to be definitely impacting people’s mental health and just general sense of well-being more than even during the normal school year.”
In lieu of the usual spring break, Yale has planned out five individual days off spread throughout the semester. These days off from class should “decompress” the semester, University President Peter Salovey wrote in an email to students.
The News spoke with five students who said they appreciated the efforts to slow down the semester, but feared they would spend the days catching up on work. With only one day off at a time, students told the News, they would likely end up trying to complete assignments. Additionally, some feared professors would assign extra work knowing that students were not in class.
Dhruva Gupta ’20, now a student at Harvard Medical School, said that when he went to Yale, breaks allowed him to step back and take stock of the term.
“Breaks are a way to combat the stresses of Yale and the pandemic,” Gupta said. “Taking that away removes an opportunity for students to actually take care of themselves, so that makes students so much more vulnerable to suffering from a mental health illness, crisis or episode.”
In a previous interview with the News, University Provost Scott Strobel and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Pericles Lewis explained that Yale had to minimize student travel to avoid students contracting the coronavirus and bringing it to or from campus. The decision underscores a current challenge for university administrators — balancing public health and student mental health.
Jay Kauffin ’24 said that he understood the concern that students would use break time to travel, potentially exposing themselves to the coronavirus. But, he added, the University’s community compact specifically prohibits travel outside of Connecticut during the fall term, and Yale could bar students from campus if they broke this rule.
Goldberg added that if the University continued twice-weekly testing during a break from classes, students would have to show up for the tests or risk getting in trouble.
To make the decision about the spring term, the University consulted with multiple students, Lewis explained. The University established a basic plan last spring in consultation with members of the Graduate Student Assembly and the Yale College Council. The day of the final decision, he said that he talked to students on the University Calendar Committee, which includes current YCC representatives.
Jeremy Baron ’21, a freshman counselor, said that not having a fall break is hitting the first-years particularly hard. During his first year at Yale, he does not know what he would have done without the break, Baron said, and he is currently seeing the effects among the first years in his residential college.
Along with the usual rigorous academics and extracurriculars, the 2020-21 academic year also comes in the context of a chaotic political sphere and a global pandemic, Kauffin said. These combined circumstances make longer breaks all the more important, he added.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic, an extremely tumultuous political climate and presidential election, and the uphill battle that is social change against systems of oppression,” Kauffin wrote in an email to the News. “Students have an obligation to the world at large to facilitate the change that our future depends on; it is extremely difficult to do that if we are too busy juggling our academics, mental health, and physical health because of decisions that the administration is taking that make things worse in an already trying time.”
When asked for comment, University spokesperson Karen Peart referred the News to previous comments made by Strobel, in which he said that he hopes students will use the day-long breaks as time away from schoolwork.
The spring semester will begin on Feb. 1.
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