How deep into the semester are we? Three weeks? Five months? No, eight weeks. Wow, this semester has gone by so very quickly. And so very slowly.
The election often framed as the most important vote of our lives is just two weeks away. The president contracted and recovered from COVID-19 more than a week ago. And we spend every day baked by the light from computer screens and staring at our classmates on Zoom calls, muted for an hour and 45 minutes of every two-hour session. Science has clearly determined fatigue is a transmissible symptom a patient can acquire without ever contracting the virus itself.
What an unfortunate time to remove a break from the academic calendar. With all of us facing challenges to our mental and physical health we couldn’t imagine less than a year ago, we have been forced to find a new grit to push through the fall term without rest. And we Yalies have done that with few complaints because we have been conditioned to value our hard work and ambition more than most other things in our lives. But we all know that that lack of time off has intensified feelings of malaise and insecurity that we have all been forced to confront in some way. It certainly doesn’t make it feel like Yale is prioritizing our needs.
That is why when University President Peter Salovey announced earlier this month that the spring term would feature five break days to replace a lost spring break and “decompress” the semester, it was a step in the right direction. At least now, the University was considering ways to give its overworked students and faculty a small break in the semester. With these five days spread out over several weeks of the term, one falling on each day Monday through Friday, Yalies are in theory supposed to have a reprieve from the endless screens. Except does anyone other than Yale’s administrators really think students will be able to use those days for an effective break? Did anyone on Salovey’s team ask students how they spend their evenings and weekends when they don’t have class?
I’ll let them in on a little secret: Most of us don’t spend that time resting much. We have practices to attend and extracurriculars to run and papers to write and research to conduct and readings to complete and jobs to satisfy. These commitments are especially time-consuming for first-generation, low-income students who have less free time than their peers, and, therefore can’t use that time away from class to relax as much. Commitments don’t just go away when one day of classes is cancelled. Students will be forced to use that new time off to address mounting work, not “decompress.”
Here’s the fundamental difference between a weeklong spring break and five break days spread out over the course of the semester: During a weeklong break, most of these time-suckers grind to a halt. Students have a chance to breathe and recenter themselves. There’s a chance to just reflect without a nagging deadline the next day. We have a chance to be present in a way that’s much harder during a normal week of classes. None of that comes easily in Salovey’s break scheme. If you get Tuesday off, Wednesday still has two papers due and Thursday still has a column. And the semester continues to grind its students down.
It’s understandable why Yale has elected to spread out the break days rather than give us a full, continuous spring break. They don’t want students leaving campus, creating more opportunities for community exposure to COVID-19. But students already have to be tested twice a week to comply with community compact. Can’t the University keep that requirement and make students check in during a weeklong break? That would ensure they don’t leave campus rather than requiring what’s essentially the removal of breaks all together.
The University was clearly trying to help its students decrease their workloads with this new break scheme. But Salovey doesn’t understand his student body if he thinks a Wednesday off is a “break.”
JACOB HUTT is a senior in Silliman College. His column, titled “Pending,” runs every other Thursday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org