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University of Michigan students had their first “well-being” break — one of two days off from class in place of the traditional week-long spring break — this past Wednesday. 

While the day was meant to promote student mental health without allowing enough time for travel, many students told The Michigan Daily that Wednesday’s break did not offer them time to engage in wellness activities. Instead, many students said they spent the time catching up on additional homework assignments during one of their most stressful semesters yet.

In December, the Board of Regents approved two one-day, mid-week “well-being breaks” during the Winter 2021 semester in hopes of allowing students to step away from class responsibilities for a day. The decision to cancel classes for the two mid-week breaks came after the University canceled Spring Break in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Ainsley Grace transferred to the University this year and said she hasn’t yet stepped foot on campus. In an interview with The Daily, Grace said this semester’s virtual experience has been especially isolating, making her feel as if she hasn’t had time for anything besides schoolwork.

Grace said when one of her professors assigned double the typical amount of reading and suggested the class could complete it on the well-being day, it was yet another blow in what was already a uniquely challenging semester.

“I don’t really think it’s enough — I think that it’s hard to not have a spring break at all,” Grace said. “I just had to do homework … I did not take a day off.”

In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said the purpose of the well-being breaks is to provide an opportunity for students to step away from the online learning environment for a day.

“The well-being breaks were designed so students would have opportunities to spend time away from their typical spaces and screens as well as virtual breaks to meet students’ varying needs, while aligning with public health safety requirements,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Like Grace, Engineering freshman Satvik Nagpal said he has also spent the school year studying from home, where he said it is difficult to motivate himself to do schoolwork without social interaction on campus.

“Usually work and fun are separated, but now it feels like it’s almost a blur because all of your work is done at home,” Nagpal said. “(Remote learning) kind of just blends in and feels like every day is the same.”

Nagpal also said some of his friends had assignments due on the well-being day, and he spent the day working on an EECS 281 project and studying for a quiz for a different class the following day.

“It just seems like (professors are) working around the wellness day instead of changing their plans to give us more of a day off, instead of just a study day or a catch-up day,” Nagpal said.

Fitzgerald also wrote that well-being days should be an opportunity for students and instructors to take time off from normal school activities.

“While these are not vacation days and the university is open, academic activity is intended to pause to enable students and instructors some time to use as they find most appropriate,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Nagpal added he feels two days off during a 13-week semester is insufficient in supporting students’ mental health and that he would like to see students receive more time off. 

Engineering sophomore Zachary Goldston said even though he appreciated the University’s attempt to provide safe time off for students, it was not enough time to fully relax.

“I appreciate what initiative Michigan is trying to take, considering they removed holidays, long weekends and spring break from us in order to prevent the spread of COVID during the winter semester,” Goldston said. “For some people, this has been more of a catch-up day or even a workday with some teachers assigning readings, even exams or a lot of work, since kids are missing class today, which personally, I think goes against what the University was planning to do.”

Goldston said he spent part of his well-being day golfing, though he acknowledged that other students he knew had more stressful days. 

“We wanted a day where we could, instead of focusing on Zoom University, instead of focusing on the stressors in our lives, take a second just to chill, take a deep breath and have some time for us to think instead of constantly rushing around from point to point worrying about assignments and activities,” Goldston said.

Public Health junior Bushra Hassan said she spent her well-being day catching up on lectures and studying for an exam the following day. In an interview with The Daily, Hassan said she feels virtual classes have created additional stressors for students.

“Staring at a screen for six continuous hours is very draining,” Hassan said. “It’s like you have to be actively engaged the whole time, especially if you have your camera on, which is very exhausting.”

On Monday, Hassan said one of her professors assigned two additional lectures with an expectation they would be completed over the next two days, one of which coincided with the break. Hassan said she reached out to the professor to express concerns about the assignment but did not receive a response. The following day, Hassan said her professor told the class to watch the lectures at two-times speed.

“I didn’t know how to respond to him, because this is a wellness day, and I asked him, what does it mean to him. He just didn’t answer me,” Hassan said.

The Daily reviewed Hassan’s email to her professor and confirmed its contents, but was unable to confirm the professor’s statement in the class.

Goldston said this semester has been a trying experience for students and that he hopes there are more opportunities to relax in the future.

“In reality, I just want one day for us to forget that we’re in this sort of almost dystopian, nightmarish time and just kind of get to do something we want to do,” Goldston said.

Daily Staff Reporter Dominick Sokotoff can be reached at sokotoff@umich.edu. 

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