Our next well-being day better not be disguised by the administration in the form of a break and exposed for what it actually is: a poor attempt by the University of Michigan to supposedly address the mental health needs of students and failing, miserably. 

Students receive email after email from University President Mark Schlissel, professors and Graduate Student Instructors, acknowledging that students are facing a stressful time. Each message sounds nearly verbatim to, “This has been a challenging time for everyone in our community. We’ve been affected personally — and tragically — by the spread of the virus. We’ve been asked to think and work differently, under considerable time pressures and growing stress.” But the current leniency –– or rather, lack thereof –– given by professors does not reflect this attitude of empathy at all; simply giving students two “well-being breaks” is not the appropriate answer. While President Schlissel acknowledges the breaks will not solve all of our problems, and that they are supposed to be “just a day to give time,” the break has not even been able to do that: my personal experience aside, observing other students around me has been the perfect testament to how the break has failed in accomplishing what it was set out to do.

On our first well-being day, I was sitting at Sweetwaters in the Michigan Union at 8 a.m. — the rest of the seating options became full in the next half-hour. If that isn’t a testament to how “relaxed” students were during the first “break,” then what is? I had homework specifically assigned on the day before the break that was due the day after. The only way I could have possibly enjoyed my day off was if I had pulled an all-nighter on Tuesday and woke up early on Thursday to finish my assignments. The sheer quantity of unnecessary homework that classes have been assigning gives the impression that the University is ignorant of the fact that the pandemic continues to impact students’ mental health and personal lives.

If we remove all personal experiences and tragedies related to COVID-19 and solely consider what classes are like via Zoom, that should be enough reason to prove just how frustrated students are. I have back-to-back classes from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays. That’s six hours of me rooted to the same spot, staring at my computer screen and skipping lunch only to make sure I don’t fall behind. On Thursdays and Fridays, I have calculus from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., giving me less than one day to address my webwork and prepwork assignments and textbook problems, not to mention having to rewatch the same lecture at least twice to grasp all the material. All this just to make sure I don’t fall behind — which excludes the time I need to put into studying for exams, team homework projects and quizzes. And this is one class. 

Unfortunately, I am not alone in having to drudge through such a monotonous, overwhelming schedule. I cannot even imagine how many other students are swamped with an endless to-do list, only to be rewarded with two days of no class — and already one of them being a complete failure. Yes, winter break was longer than it was in previous years, and yes, eliminating spring break altogether is an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 around campus. But instead of giving a ridiculously long winter break, why weren’t we given five individual days, one every other week, of no class and no extra assignments, spaced out appropriately through the semester? Students are expected to maintain themselves physically, mentally and academically while being overworked to the point of exhaustion. And all this is enforced without considering the personal tragedies related to COVID-19. 

Instructors are at fault here too and need to give students the appropriate workload so that on a well-being break, students can actually relax and not have a tremendous list brimming with assignments. It should be obvious enough to realize that group projects should be completely eliminated unless there is no possible alternative. After all, not only do students already sit through Zoom for hours on end, but projects require scheduling a group meeting for more Zoom time, in a frustrating process of bad connection and mumbling over each other. Zoom group projects are a completely unnecessary experience for students to endure in the middle of a pandemic.

The false assurances that instructors and Schlissel feed the student body mean nothing if they cannot be manifested into something students actually need. Students don’t care if the faculty acknowledge that it is a stressful time to be in an academic environment. We already know that. Don’t just acknowledge it. Show us that you understand through your actions. Give us alleviations that remove the pressures of being in one spot for half a day at a time. Give us multiple days of well-being that have cut back on the assignments, the homework and the group projects, and this time, only give us instruction on what is absolutely essential. It should not be necessary to break our limits in the name of academic excellence: not now and not ever.

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