We need a break.
It’s the third week of the semester, and students are suffering. We’re taking normal course loads under decidedly abnormal conditions. We’re isolated from friends and family. We’re worried about catching a deadly disease, or losing our loved ones to it.
Yale Mental Health and Counseling is on track to see a greater percentage of students this year than last, according to Director Paul Hoffman. Yale was a stressful place before the pandemic. Now, the University is asking us to meet the incredible demands of a Yale education for 14 weeks straight with virtually no rest.
To help “decompress the pace of spring,” Yale has scheduled five individual break days roughly every two weeks, from this coming Monday, Feb. 22 through Friday, April 23. We appreciate the sentiment behind these days off. They’re certainly better than nothing. But they also echo the lack of administrative awareness that gave us spring preregistration during fall final exams.
We all know Yale’s academic culture well. We know that most students won’t “remember to relax and recharge” over the coming long weekend, as Yale College Dean Marvin Chun instructed in a Thursday email to the student body. And while Chun and other deans asked professors not to schedule assignments or exams on break days or the days after them, there’s no guarantee that faculty will comply.
This means that for all the good intent behind break days, many of us will feel forced to spend them catching up on the endless stream of assignments that defines academic life here. Individual break days are not the break we need. Nor should they be the break we have — not when such an obvious alternative exists.
We call on the University to move its original Thursday and Friday break days to the week of March 22, creating a continuous break from Wednesday, March 24 to Sunday, March 28. This week falls just prior to the midterm, matching the recess structure we typically have in the fall.
Administrators have already allocated one break day for each day of the week this semester. Our proposal does not require an extension of the semester or a reallocation of its allotted class time. We are simply asking Yale to fulfill its stated purpose of decompression by moving two already scheduled break days to another week.
Yes, many of us will still choose to spend a Wednesday-through-Friday break at our desks. But there is a fundamental difference between having one day off, with classes and assignments due the next, and having the better part of a week to oneself. Not having a fall break was brutal. We plead with our administration: Please don’t repeat that mistake this term.
We understand the serious public health concerns associated with a more traditional break. Students could travel, and then — as Chun noted in an email to the Editorial Board — be subject to a multi-week quarantine upon their return. In doing so, they would threaten the progress that Yale and New Haven have made in combating COVID-19. Scheduling a break without appropriate precautions would be reckless.
Fortunately, we already have a sound mechanism for ensuring that students stay in New Haven: twice-weekly testing. Every undergraduate enrolled in residence must get tested every week on either Thursday or Friday. If Yale maintains this requirement throughout the proposed break, it maintains the baseline level of risk — that students may take a Thursday or Friday COVID-19 test and then leave for the weekend — that the University accepted when it brought us back in the first place.
Of course, it is highly probable that some students would choose to ignore their COVID-19 testing requirement and leave campus. We support Yale increasing the penalty for missing a test during this period; rather than a simple email reminder, students should be immediately referred to the Community Compact Review Committee for commensurate disciplinary action.
There are other concerns, too. A long weekend when students are on campus but not taking classes — like Camp Yale or reading period — could encourage students to gather in potentially deadly crowds. But if Yale can trust us with an on-campus reading period later this semester, Yale can trust us with a spring break.
Still, at the end of the day, a successful, safe spring break hinges on students not repeating the many mistakes we made last semester.
We recognize that this proposal may require rescheduled midterms for some Thursday and Friday classes. But these changes are a small price to pay for improved undergraduate mental health. And to those who say it’s too late to make a change, Yale demonstrated far more academic flexibility last year when professors rapidly adapted their schedules and expectations due to the onset of the pandemic. By contrast, we are asking for something minor; a handful of professors must shift due dates by one week, but they will all recoup a day of instruction in April.
The University has more than a month to plan for a slight schedule shift that prioritizes our physical and mental health. Administrators have the opportunity to go beyond the empty words of weekly wellness emails and poster campaigns. Yale, give us a break.