Logan Howard, Senior Photographer
While a Jan. 29 email from Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun advertised break days as “a chance for rest and renewal,” class schedules and, in some cases, unaccommodating professors made the first break of the semester less relaxing than some students anticipated.
The first of five break days interspersed throughout the semester took place on Monday, Feb. 22, meaning that faculty were expected to cancel both classes and assignments on that day, as well as assignments and assessments on the day that followed. But students told the News that some professors continued to schedule classes and work — and even for those with no classes, the day was spent studying.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t meaningfully restful and it reminded me of the stress we will have to endure during the spring semester due to the lack of a cohesive break,” said Christion Zappley ’24, who is also staff producer for the Podcast Desk of the News. “It’s important for professors to respect the no-work policies because it’s inevitable for students to burn out when doing work nonstop like this, especially in the middle of a pandemic.”
On the break day, Yale College Council Vice President Reilly Johnson ’22 asked undergraduates via social media to notify her of any break day violations from professors. Within 24 hours, she received 18 submissions that detailed how professors allegedly rescheduled or held Monday classes or had large assignments due Monday or Tuesday.
Chun, however, told the News that, while he was aware of “some deviations from our recommendations,” he had also heard in those cases that every professor asked by students to accommodate the break day ultimately did so.
Chun also noted a week-long break was not an option for administrators and the break days were only added for “some improvement over the fall term.”
“The one-week spring break is not feasible because then we would have to do a reset quarantine because there is no way to prevent a small number of students from traveling,” he told the News. “This decision was not arbitrary either. It was recommended by the public health folks, and many of our peer schools are doing similar things.”
YCC Academics Director Saket Malhotra ’23 said that YCC anticipated reports of faculty violations and prioritized student self advocacy accordingly. The YCC posted a self-advocacy guide on their social media platforms, which Malhotra described as a “concentrated effort by students to use their own power in numbers, and to use the influence of other Yale faculty, like DUSes and academic deans to get their professors to abide by Dean Chun’s guidelines.”
Malhotra acknowledged that many professors “have set schedules they’d like to follow, made pre COVID,” and that it “may be beneficial for professors who know their content to have control over their class schedule.” However, he emphasized that sticking to a pre-pandemic class plan prevents adaptation to the current public health environment.
In the future, Johnson said, Yale should use stronger language in its break day policies and give administrators the ability to enforce these policies.
“I hope that professors and staff will treat future break days, and the students that need them, with more respect,” she added.
Looking ahead to the remaining four break days of the semester, Malhotra said he hopes that Chun will take stronger measures to ensure that break days are used for their intended purpose.
Katherine Du ’22, the outreach and communications director of the Yale Student Mental Health Association and the former mental health chair of the YCC, described the fall semester, which had no days off between the start of term and November break, as feeling “a bit like a marathon the whole way through.”
The break days, Du said, are “a great way for Yale to show that they care about their students,” in particular because the spring semester is during the latter half of the academic year. Du urged professors to “show some empathy to students” by not assigning work due on or after the break days.
According to Zappley, however, “there was no difference in what my day looked like on the break day compared to an average Monday in regards to coursework.” Zappley focused on “catching up on reading and doing work that I had due for the next day” during his time away from classes.
For Ryan Thoreson, clinical lecturer in law, the break day was much needed for students and professors alike.
The day off allowed him to check in with teaching fellows in his lecture course — Theories, Practices and Politics of Human Rights — and also to take a breather in a “full speed ahead” semester.
While he acknowledged that the break days might make some sections of his lecture have assignments due that the other students will not have to submit on a given week, he considered that to be “a small price to pay.”
“If we can’t have a spring break, I feel like carving out days is important,” Thoreson added.
The next official break day will be on Tuesday, March 9.
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Clarification Mar. 3: An earlier version of this story lacked clarity with regards to Thoreson’s assignment schedule. The story has been updated to clarify that Thoreson’s students may have a different number of assignments on a given week, not over the full semester.