Yale News

Monday morning marked the official resumption of classes following October recess, but for some students, saddled with looming tests and papers, the break was not as relaxing as they had hoped. 

Yale College Dean Marvin Chun and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Szabó Gendler sent a message to faculty members last week encouraging them not to set deadlines for major assignments immediately following October recess. The message was prompted by a Yale College Council policy recommendation of a similar nature, which had been written in response to student concerns that post-break assignments made it difficult for them to reap the mental-health benefits of time off. Still, multiple students reported having assignments in the days immediately after the break.

“We were eager to support the effort to help students make the most of the break days and position themselves for a strong second half of the semester,” Chun wrote in an email to the News.

Iris Li ’24, academic policy director for the YCC, told the News that she and YCC deputy director Leleda Beraki ’24 compiled the policy recommendation after multiple YCC senators heard reports from classmates about assignments due immediately post-break. Li said that students expressed concerns of burnout following midterm exams and vocalized the need for October recess to serve as a “full stop.” 

After she and Beraki compiled the recommendation, Li said, YCC president Bayan Galal and vice president Zoe Hsu met with Chun to discuss the proposal. Chun told the News that after discussing the recommendation with Gendler, both deans were “happy” to send a message to faculty.

In the spring 2021 semester, the University interspersed five break days through the academic calendar in lieu of a continuous spring break because of public health restrictions. After hearing from YCC representatives about student concerns that the break days were not sufficiently restful because of academic deadlines, Chun — along with Gendler and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley — sent a Mar. 4 email to faculty members with reminders for the Mar. 9 break day.

In the email, Chun, Cooley and Gendler reminded faculty not to schedule classes, exams or other assignments on a break day and not to schedule make-up classes or sessions for meetings missed on a break day. They also requested that faculty members be “flexible and accommodating” on post-break days and avoid scheduling major assignments or exams on those days. 

“We understand that you need to assign weekly readings and assignments, but where possible, please consider extending any deadlines or relaxing the weight of grading for work due on the post-break days,” the deans wrote.

Chun told the News that “many instructors were able to take our message, which was a request, into consideration, even though they received it well after they had planned their courses and syllabi.” 

But because the message was a request, rather than a requirement, some professors did not adjust their syllabi, several students told the News.

Shandra Ahsan ’24, a biomedical engineering major in Silliman College, said that she has several major assignments due in the days immediately following October recess. Professors in two of her classes assigned a quiz due Monday and an essay due Tuesday, Ahsan said.

“In my opinion, having to work on assignments over breaks is even more stressful than in the throes of school because you feel like every moment you spend not working on your assignment is time wasted, so you spend the entire break working,” Ahsan said. “When we are doing school, we are a lot more effective at creating boundaries with our work, but at home and over break, the built-in boundary-maker at school is absent.” 

Ahsan said that in her opinion, setting deadlines for major assignments right after academic breaks “defeats the entire purpose of the break.” She added that her current experience is reminiscent of the 2020-21 academic year, when the vast majority of classes were conducted online. 

Because of the University’s COVID-19 protocols, most first-year and sophomore students spent at least one semester away from campus last year, learning remotely from home or in another off-campus setting. Ahsan, who spent the spring 2021 semester at home in California, said that the “boundaries between rest and school were completely blurred.”

“I would think after last year’s brutal experience for students, professors would be more cognizant of students’ need for rest,” Ahsan said. “Some professors honestly give off the air that students don’t deserve rest, or that they don’t understand why students are so burnt out.”

Erin Bailey ’24, a former copy editor for the News, seconded that her professors continued to assign work due in the days after break. Bailey has a lab report due on Monday.

According to Chun, students in classes with Monday due dates may ask their professors for extensions. Chun noted that instructors possess the sole authority to allow or decline postponement requests during the school term. Dean’s excuses do not apply in situations like these, he wrote.

Li suggested that students having difficulty obtaining post-break assignment extensions encourage their classmates to contact the professor, too, to emphasize that the issue is a collective one. 

In future semesters, Li said, she would “love” to see a collaborative effort between University administrators and YCC leaders to create an official policy prohibiting the assignment of homework due at the first class meeting following a break. 

“I know that it’s hard to limit what professors choose to do, but I want to cultivate an academic atmosphere that respects rest,” Li said. “Academic spaces like Yale should not be unhealthy, and rest is so important to health.”

The midterm point of the semester will be Oct. 29. 

Olivia Tucker covered student policy & affairs as a beat reporter in 2021-22. She previously served as an associate editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine and covered gender equity and diversity. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a senior in Davenport College majoring in English.