Back in September, when the University of Michigan announced there would no longer be a spring break for students and faculty, I figured I would be fine. COVID-19 did not appear to be slowing down anytime soon and, with the semester concluding on April 30, I would benefit more from an extended summer than a week in March. All in all, it seemed to be a good deal.
After the fall semester, I was drained. The transition from high school to college was strenuous, amplified by the challenge of studying remotely. Our month-long break was much needed, but in many ways, the hecticness from the first few months remained. I never felt as though I was truly “shut-off” from the daily grind of a college student. Now, with a little over a month to go before the academic year ends, I am wishing the administration granted us, students, those seven coveted spring days.
Alas, the University thought of “Wellness Days” to compensate for the persistent workload we’ve received since Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And they come in twos — separately, of course! This will surely alleviate our stress and fatigue, right?
Not even close. In February, my wellness day was spent studying for my upcoming Math 115 exam. A few days ago, it was spent writing a paper for my BCOM 250 class. If “wellness” is somehow defined by the security you experience in knowing that you’re a little more prepared than you were before or taking the necessary steps to finish an assignment on time, then mission accomplished. However, that is not the case.
“Wellness,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is described as “the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal.” In our current era of isolation and social distance, I cannot think of a greater priority than maintaining our mental health. Yet, if that was truly the University’s goal, they failed miserably. Instead, they should have labeled them for what they really were: 24-hours-without-class days. Understandably, that’s not as catchy.
Many of us, including myself, are feeling psychologically taxed and constrained right now. The Zooms and phone calls I’ve had with upperclassmen friends to catch up, which used to last at least half an hour, now barely crack 15 minutes. What was once a welcomed release for both parties is now viewed as a distraction from the contextualized task at hand. Moreover, all correspondence usually ends the same way now: “Yeah I know we’re all super busy and things are super hectic so I don’t want to take up any more of your time. Talk to you soon, bye.”
I don’t fault the students or the professors for this educational strain we’re all experiencing; we’re all fulfilling our commitments to the University and to each other. However, anyone who’s learned a thing or two about productivity knows that you can’t work people to their limits for four consecutive months. It simply cannot be done.
Let’s do some math. Research conducted by psychologists shows that our productivity is maximized when matched with our ultradian rhythms. Therefore, we are most efficient when we work in longer sessions of approximately 90 minutes, followed by 15 to 20-minute breaks. Out of a given 105 minutes, we are working between 80 and 85% of the time, but operating at peak productivity. By attending classes alone, students of the University of Michigan are “working” nearly every day of the semester. The only reprieve from this work is during — you guessed it — those golden Wellness Days.
I understand that we’re students, not professionals. Yet, our otherwise pretty-darn professional university expects a certain level of professionalism from us. This university houses some of the world’s best and brightest future leaders — don’t we want to see what we’re capable of when we operate at the fullest capabilities? I know I sure do.
Hopefully, this will all be a moot point in the fall. In a perfect world, when the majority of society is vaccinated, we can quit worrying about the potential health consequences of spring break. Hopefully, then we can have fun and truly unwind for a week, much to the enjoyment of everybody here in Ann Arbor.
For now, however, let this serve as a cautionary tale. We shouldn’t be overworked and expected to grind for four months straight. Our attention will drift, our guard will slip and everyone will be left to suffer the effects of a stressed-out, fatigued campus population. How’s that for a Wellness Day?
Sam Woiteshek is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.