Students are tired. Professors are tired. With a compressed fall semester, Saturday classes, countless Zoom meetings and no fall break, we are burned out. But despite all of this, we won’t have a spring break next semester. The three days of non-instructional break are not only insufficient but actively harmful.
We all acknowledge the severity of COVID-19 and respect the effort of the colleges to provide a dispersed spring break to discourage unnecessary travel. However, the current plan is not comprehensive enough to eliminate the significant health risks. Regardless of spring break days, students will still travel to San Diego or Joshua Tree, see friends and family and increase harmful exposure without a more comprehensive plan in place.
In order to maintain the academic integrity and well-being of our students and faculty, the Claremont Colleges need to reconsider their decision, implement a one-week long break for remote and in-person learning and create better travel regulations, such as providing a binding residential agreement to remain on campus, if we are on campus.
In my roles as a student organizer and ASCMC presidential advisor on academic affairs, I have observed a general consensus of the need for a break. Several surveys have collected student sentiments about the fall semester’s workload. The results are disheartening but not surprising. For instance, in a survey sent by Claremont McKenna College’s class presidents, nearly 70 percent of the 636 respondents said that their performance in one class or more has been or might be impacted negatively. Additionally, 80.3 percent of the students surveyed said that their mental health has declined this semester.
The student experience, however, goes beyond numbers and statistics. Hundreds of students submitted testimonials to these surveys, sharing their struggles. “I am a first-year and I barely sleep four hours a night,” one student wrote. Another respondent noted that they “recently lost a close family member and was advised by my professors not to miss too much class/assignments.”
Many students, especially first-generation and low-income students, have added financial responsibilities. For example, some students must work part-time jobs in addition to being full-time students. A student shared, “It is harder to keep up with workload now than when I was working 20+ hours a week at on-campus jobs.”
International students have to accommodate time zone differences and a lack of accessibility to many resources that they would otherwise access on campus, like therapy, for example. An international student shared, “It is hard waking up at 3 a.m. because of time zone differences, and MCAPS therapy is not available just because I’m out of the country.”
Providing a spring break is the minimum that the Claremont Colleges can do to alleviate some of these concerns. But the proposed three sporadic non-instructional days across a condensed semester do not provide enough time off for students to regain their energy to finish the semester. Clearly, school is not the only issue occupying the minds of our students and faculty.
We are experiencing a year filled with personal mourning, deaths, environmental catastrophes, racial violence, attacks on immigrants and international students and alarming rates of unemployment. We have time and time again seen student testimonials about mourning their family members.
These similar sentiments will transfer to the spring semester, where we will not be allowed sufficient time to process and recover from all these alarming issues. Even with the extended winter break, some students will not necessarily use the time as a break, since many will continue to work multiple jobs to help their families. Many students will carry these responsibilities into the academic semester accompanied by the challenging compressed schedule with no continuous break.
This semester has been a series of reactionary changes to our academic calendar. Students have had to request that faculty adjust their syllabi, cancel class and cut assignments to reduce workload and stress — all actions that interfered with our education and our professors’ plans. With the spring semester being our third semester during the pandemic, we need to seek proactive approaches based on our lessons from the past year.
There are two scenarios to plan for in the spring: remote or in person. In the case that we are online, we should have a one-week spring break. In the case that some, or most, students return to campus, we should still have a one-week spring break. Students returning to campus should sign a contract affirming that they will avoid all traveling during spring break. We can even rely on our resident assistants to take attendance of all residents and ensure that no one is violating this policy. If a student cannot follow this community-oriented policy, they should not be on campus posing a threat to our peers and staff.
I am, alongside many of my peers, asking the 5Cs to revote and give us a one-week spring break. Over 1,500 students have signed a 5C student petition requesting a five-day spring break, no condensed semester and reading days. In all sincerity, we don’t need tricks to avoid burnout. We already go on walks and manage our time to the best of our ability. We need a workload reduction. We need a break! We are tired. We are burned out. We cannot do an entire year like this.
Dear 5Cs: Give us a break.
Katherine Almendarez CM ’22 is a guest writer who is majoring in public policy and Latin American studies. She is a student organizer from Honduras and Miami (no, Miami is not Florida). Follow her on Twitter @kathaalmendarez for some viral content.