Following student concerns that this semester’s first of two well-being days was ineffective, an online petition demanding a four-day weekend and lightened workload made its way around the University of Michigan campus community this past week.
Throughout this school year, students have been facing record-high anxiety and depression rates and are struggling with mental health challenges largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and online classes.
LSA junior Patience Young started the petition, which has received more than 2,800 digital signatures as of Sunday evening. The petition — calling for “equitable treatment for University of Michigan students” — cites U-M Dearborn’s four-day well-being weekend that lasted from Feb. 25 to Feb. 28 as an example of a healthy break for students and staff.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Young said students on the Ann Arbor and Flint campuses should also have a well-being weekend. Students across all campuses are undergoing difficulties with remote learning, Young said, and days off in the middle of the week are less effective at providing a break from the typical class workload. Similar to U-M Ann Arbor, U-M Flint also received two mid-week well-being days on Wednesday, Feb. 24 and Tuesday, Mar. 23.
While explaining why she thinks students need a longer break, Young said students face hardship on several fronts. Many are dealing with economic uncertainty and also missing out on college experiences like study abroad and building meaningful relationships with classmates.
“We are currently in totally unprecedented times,” Young said. “Students are under a unique amount of stress that they have never faced before. They’re extremely isolated, they’re stressed out about their lives, they’re stressed out about their futures. They’re dealing with sickness in their family and in their communities. They’re dealing with living in a country where the (COVID-19) death (total) is at half a million now, where the situation feels like it’s just getting worse and worse, even with the vaccine coming out.”
The University has defended its wellbeing break by countering that giving students a longer break might also give them prolonged time to travel and potentially spread COVID-19. However, Young said many students who wish to travel might already be using the remote class format to do so.
“I’ve heard several people argue that a four-day weekend is going to encourage students to travel, and I stand by the idea that any student who wants to travel is already doing so,” Young said. “The majority of students desire this time not so that they can fly to Cancun, but so that they can just have a second to catch up and rest.”
In an email to The Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said University President Mark Schlissel’s office received the petition and has followed up with Young, but the University is not considering any additional changes to the academic calendar.
“Each of our three campuses has a distinctive student population and each campus has its own academic calendar,” Fitzgerald said.
In an interview with The Daily, U-M Dearborn junior Phoenix Sky said she welcomed the four-day weekend, but that in some of her courses, students had to reach out to professors to push for a diminished workload during the time off.
“It was very nice to have a break and to have a little time to either catch up if you’re behind or just relax for a minute,” Sky said. “I appreciate the way they arranged it before a weekend, so it was more like a break and not just a random day.”
Sky said she was aware of Young’s petition and expressed frustration that student breaks during this term weren’t consistent across the three campuses.
“I was very surprised that they weren’t being consistent with that break, especially because I was under the impression that the reason our spring break was canceled in the first place was because Ann Arbor’s was canceled,” Sky said. “So I was very surprised to learn that U of M Ann Arbor did not get the same wellness break that we did, and I think that’s totally unfair. There’s no reason to think that one group of students would be under more or less stress.”
LSA senior Amytess Girgis works with the One University Campaign in the fight to secure more funding for U-M Flint and Dearborn. One University’s goals include establishing a Go Blue Guarantee financial aid program at the other two campuses like the one offered at U-M Ann Arbor and the implementation of other Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives.
While she feels the University could better support students during this time, Girgis said she does not think concerns over school break length should be considered issues of equity between the three campuses.
“When we’re talking about equity across U of M’s three campuses, we’re talking specifically about the privilege that Ann Arbor receives, primarily with regards to funding and resource allocation compared to Dearborn and Flint,” Girgis said. “Disparities between these three campuses have everything to do with power dynamics and don’t exactly work in the opposite direction. That being said, I think there are a lot of great arguments for (a longer wellbeing break), but I just don’t think equity across the three campuses is one.”
LSA freshman Astana Gaffney said she signed Young’s petition in the hopes that the University would give students additional time off.
“Every day I just tell myself, ‘Just make it to the weekend, just finish the week.’” Gaffney said. “But, of course, I still have homework on the weekend and then you just start right back up again, so it’s been a never-ending battle. I just think the University went about it the wrong way. I personally would have been fine having one or two more weeks of school in April if I got a longer break in the middle of the semester.”
When asked by The Daily earlier this week about U-M Ann Arbor’s well-being days, Schlissel acknowledged the increased workload some students face during the pandemic. Schlissel said Ann Arbor faculty has been given feedback to adjust workloads and ease the burden on students.
“The well-being days (are) just a day to give time,” Schlissel said. “We’re not under the illusion that the well-being days solve all our problems at all.”
While the University will not be adding any well-being breaks, Young stressed that they need to take some sort of action quickly to come to the aid of exhausted students.
“Students rely on their brains to manage their well-being and their workloads,” Young said. “What I’m hearing from students and what I’m personally experiencing is just an extreme burnout that feels unsurvivable.”
Daily Staff Reporter Dominick Sokotoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.