Students question Spring 2021 wellness days, welcome pass/no pass extension

What are wellness days, and why did USC cancel spring break?

Provost Charles Zukoski said Nov. 9 in an email to USC students and faculty that five wellness days spread throughout the semester would replace spring break 2021. Student reactions to the announcement were varied.

“We have scheduled five Wellness Days throughout the Spring. A Wellness Day is a day on which there will be no classes and no classwork expected of students,” read the Provost’s memo. “Students will also be able to choose a Pass/No Pass grading option in Spring through April 30.”

Some USC students, however, had mixed feelings when they learned the university was replacing their coveted spring break with wellness days spread out through the semester.

Madison Nicholson, a junior business major, said the announcement initially confused her.

“I was excited that all classes were pass/fail for the semester, but I was a tad thrown off by the random days of the week that we have off,” said Nicholson. “I think that’s a little inconsistent, but overall, it was just kind of a confusing reaction.”

Nicholson said she did not see how the days would improve students' mental health, since one day, in her opinion, wouldn’t allow the students enough time to relax.

Junior Laine Koman, majoring in business, thought starting the semester later would grant traveling students ample time to return safely to campus in time for the spring semester. Like Nicholson, she too saw the Wellness Days as poor substitutes for spring break.

“I think that not giving students a spring break is a bad idea because I think students deserve a week in the middle of the semester to rest,” said Koman. “I think that the Wellness Days don’t make up for that because they’re randomly spread out through the semester.”

Rather than dispersing the break in one day pieces over the entire semester, Koman recommended lengthening the semester to accommodate an extended spring break, giving students plenty of time to quarantine after travel.

Nicholson thought the university’s announcement was premature.

“I think that they could have waited a little bit longer to announce the spring break plan,” said Nicholson, “just so you didn’t freak students out by only giving them random one days [when] maybe things will be a little bit different by then.”

While the pandemic does dip and spike, the extensive planning going into the wellness days leaves little, if any, room for adjustment, according to USC’s Vice President for Enrollment Management Kedra Ishop. Ishop said in an interview with Annenberg Media USC wellness days will not change for any students, regardless of whether they remain online or hybridize their semester.

Ishop explained the university designed the Wellness Days to balance a modified semester, the pandemic and the spring break they promised students.

“We and a lot of our peer institutions have made decisions to still honor and give students some of those days off,” said Ishop, “but in a way that still maintains the safety of the campus and the community.”

Even Dr. Sarah Van Orman, the chief health officer of USC Student Health, acknowledged how spring break gave students an important reprieve from classes.

“I think we’re looking at what other universities are doing,” Van Orman said. “Most folks are also recognizing that students do need a spring break and that it plays a really important role.”

USC consulted deans and student organizations when reconfiguring the schedule of the five wellness days in an effort to avoid overburdening either the students or the faculty, Ishop said.

“In the conversations that we had before setting the days,” Ishop said the school worked “really closely with the deans and associate deans to make sure that we have buy-in from the academic units to ensure that these days can be used as they should be used.”.

Ishop said the pass/no pass deadline extension, also mentioned in the Nov. 9 email, aims to reduce stress among students already under the pressure of a seemingly never-ending pandemic and online semester. For the spring semester, students will be able to select the pass/no pass option through the last day of classes, April 30.

“Given that this isn’t a one semester event, it hasn’t been a one semester event and it’s not going to be a one semester and likely even a one year kind of pandemic,” said Ishop, “we also want to balance the need to ensure that we are maintaining the integrity of your academic experience on campus, while providing as much flexibility as we can.”

The Daily Trojan reported earlier this semester on the various physical health problems that can accompany Zoom-based learning, including damage to the eyes from excessive screen time and neck from poor posture. For international students, online learning poses a risk of disrupting their sleep cycle, if they choose to join their classes live.

Ishop acknowledged the unique impact of the pandemic on USC’s students, faculty and staff, while encouraging students to find a work-life balance as the university and students work through these challenging times.

“I urge students to be thoughtful of the balance that they need to strike in their academic and personal lives,” said Ishop. “I just invite students to really take their deep breaths and take their moments to themselves and to care for themselves as much as they can.”