In a university-wide email on Wednesday, Provost Charles Zukoski announced that the spring semester — which will begin on Jan. 15 and conclude with the final day of exams on May 12 — will no longer include a spring break. In the place of the break, the university is planning a personal wellness day program, the details of which are yet to be released. According to Zukoski, the administration made the decision to remove spring break in order to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading through travel.
Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman said that a spring break could create a disruption towards the end of the spring semester, as an influx of infections could lead to large numbers of students quarantining and missing class.
“Spring break is a risk because we know people travel, but when we think of just the sheer numbers, it really could create an unfortunate event,” Van Orman said. “It’s not ideal, but having a spring break really has the potential to jeopardize the semester.”
Many students are disappointed with the lack of a spring break not because they were going to travel, but because they would have used it as a time to improve their mental health.
Sabrina Perla, a sophomore studying business administration, feels that the university citing travel as a reason for canceling spring break is not sufficient.
“I know they’re canceling spring break because they don’t want people to travel, but … I feel like a lot of people, like low-income students, we don’t have money to travel. We’re just staying home,” she said. “Even with people being on campus, they’re already being unsafe without traveling. So it doesn’t apply to me and a lot of low-income students.”
Aliyah Perry, a freshman majoring in business administration, said that because most students will already be at home, she does not think spring break should be cancelled. Perry expressed concerns about the impact no spring break could have on her own mental health.
“I would have just taken that time to rest, really sleep in, and just actually focus on myself and my mental health,” Perry said. “My schedule is just so all over the place with always being in meetings, always doing homework, always doing something on the computer. I sometimes even forget to eat and so I’m always tired.”
Freshman Leonard Badt agreed, saying that this semester has been defined by Zoom fatigue and constant work. The announcement has caused concerns about second semester burnout and stress.
“I’m kind of worried, to be honest, because experiencing no fall break has been really stressful, especially how packed the semester has been … everything just feels so rushed,” Badt said. “I don’t feel like I have enough free time for myself, just with so many activities and so much work to get done.”
While students have expressed concern about how the change could impact their mental health, a personal wellness day program will replace spring break. Van Orman said that she hopes the new wellness day program will provide some relief.
“We’re really interested in what students feel like they need from the wellness days and how do we do it in a way … that can give folks the relief they need,” Van Orman said. “We do know the fall calendar has just been very challenging for people, really without a break.”
In a statement to Annenberg Media, the Provost’s office explained the intended goal of the wellness days and the process of coming up with the idea for the program.
“The university understands the need to put the mental health and wellness of our faculty, students, and staff front and center, and that is why we are inserting wellness days into our academic calendar. The idea for wellness days arose in conversations with many groups, including USG, GSG, Student Health, the Academic Senate, the academic deans, and the university’s senior leadership team.”
Audrey Keeling, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, is currently taking a leave of absence. Keeling says the previous online semester was “brutal” for her. She says the lack of a Fall break this semester influenced her decision to take a leave of absence. Keeling is optimistic about the effects the personal wellness days will have on students.
“I think the university is doing the best they can… I think it could be a good break for students. I wouldn’t say that it would replace spring break, but I think it’s a great idea.” Keeling said.
Junior Elena Kittle-Kamp, majoring in classical languages, also believes that the personal wellness days will not be as beneficial to students as the university is hoping. She thinks that USC should use the wellness days to start an active conversation about mental health.
“I would really like to see USC coming together as a community during the personal wellness day to actually openly and actively discuss mental health,” Kittle-Kamp said.
According to Van Orman, one of the goals of the wellness day program is to make sure that faculty intentionally respects these days as a time where students will not have to work. Spring break has not functioned this way in the past.
Final plans for the day haven’t been established yet, Van Orman said, but USC wants to emphasize the importance of putting student needs first.