“What is leading to some of the stress is the fact that not only is school stressful, but you have all these extra hoops to jump through and there’s no end in sight.”
Last September, Emerson College administrators announced the cancellation of spring break as a way to decrease the spread of COVID-19 as a result of student travel. Months later, on its spring calendar, the school kept traditional holiday breaks such as President’s Day and Patriot’s Day, but also added a “free day” off from classes on a Friday (March 12), a day that most students don’t have class anyway.
“I don’t have the numbers or anything, but a large portion of the student population doesn’t have Friday classes. … It’s not really affecting a lot of students at all,” said Aidain Leary, SGA president of the 2022 class. “I think a lot of students were feeling shafted, like, ‘Oh, this is what we get instead of spring break? One day off?’”
As the first week of March approached—a week typically reserved for spring break—Emerson students raised concerns about fatigue, stress, and burnout.
“People are upset that spring break isn’t happening, but we obviously got why there is no spring break. If these are genuine student concerns, it is our job to represent these student concerns and get them to the appropriate people,” Leary said.
On March 3, the Class of 2022 Council sent out an email to the entire junior class with a survey calling for a modified spring break to allow students to rest and recharge for more than the single “free day” Emerson added. The survey questions included a combination of yes or no questions, rankings, and testimonies. With 1,702 responses, Leary says the numbers speak for themselves: 97.6% of students were in favor of implementing some sort of spring break, leaving only 2.4% of students against the idea. When asked to rank how they were feeling from one (very exhausted) to five (pretty fine), 43.3% of the respondents chose one (very exhausted).
Leary said, “A major question we wanted to answer within the survey was is this something students want or that students need?”
Chloe Nanian, a junior creative writing major, says she needs spring break for a number of reasons. Not only does she spend most of her days inside on Zoom classes, but she noticed an increase in her workload this semester. She says by the end of the week, she is so physically exhausted that all she wants to do is sleep until noon. She responded to the survey and voted for a five-day break.
“This is the first semester I’ve felt burnout hit me hard during midterms. And I don’t know if it’s because it’s junior year or because of the thought that I am not getting a break” to recharge, she said.
Leary expressed a similar sentiment.
“I think part of what is leading to some of the stress is the fact that not only is school stressful, it always is, but you know you have all these extra hoops to jump through and there’s no end in sight,” Leary said with a shrug. “Summer is so far off from right now.”
Although there was overwhelming support for a five-day break, students across the spectrum raised concerns about travel, organizations, and schedule changes. In its role, SGA tried to ease worries, but also had to consider Emerson’s COVID guidelines and other factors.
“With a traditional spring break, everyone leaves. In fact, typically, they close down the dorms. We can’t do that. This isn’t going to be like that… Travel is not permitted. It’s a five-day break, on campus,” Leary said. “What that also means is that testing doesn’t shut down either.”
On March 8, SGA presented their findings to Emerson College, and called for a response by the end of the day on March 11. The administration, led by Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe, met with SGA on March 11 and drafted some different options. In an email sent to the entire student body on March 15, the administration announced “wellness passes” and a “flexibility week” for March 22 to March 27.
According to the email, “Wellness Passes will give students agency to choose an excused absence for each of their classes at any time in the semester provided there are no exams or group projects due; Flexibility Week will give students and faculty options to reduce the pressure of assignments. More details will be available after faculty complete a consultative process.”
Some professors are already collaborating with their students to provide a bit of relaxation to their schedules. Nanian’s instructors stressed communication above all else as students pick and choose which days to utilize the passes.
Madison Goldberg, a junior journalism student, says some professors have not addressed the passes yet, though other profs have offered extensions for upcoming assignments and incorporated more asynchronous class times to their syllabi.
The email also encouraged students to reach out to Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services (ECAPS), Spiritual Life, Student Success, Student Care and Support or other college staff for support through the end of the semester.
MaryCatherine Neal is a senior Journalism student at Emerson College and Boston-based freelancer. Her goal is to be a long-form feature writer for a print or online publication. When she’s not writing and reporting, she enjoys playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, reading fiction, and experimenting with new spicy foods.