Give us a break

Thursday, November 5, 2020 - 1:23pm

.

Design courtesy of Man Lam Cheng

This semester has been particularly difficult for many students. The typical pressures of challenging classes, midterms and online learning combined with current events have created an extremely stressful semester. The lack of any school breaks that offered respite from schoolwork has worsened the situation. This needs to change for next semester. 

Due to COVID-19, the University of Michigan canceled the typical fall and spring breaks. Colleges across the country introduced this change to prevent students from traveling back and forth between campus and home, therefore running the risk of spreading COVID-19 back to campus or to their hometowns. Canceling breaks is an important step to help stop the spread of COVID-19. However, the University must take meaningful steps for next semester to make up for the increased academic pressure caused by these changes. 

The Central Student Government has come up with a proposal to help address this issue. They are proposing a week in the winter term where students will have no high-stakes assignments. In the proposal, CSG defines high-stakes assignments as any assignment that makes up more than 10% of the course’s grade. This week would give students a much-needed break from schoolwork without enticing students to go home. 

In-person instruction has been replaced by countless Zoom meetings, a format that many students find unconducive to learning. The switch to online school has left many students feeling that their instructors are assigning far too much work and making it impossible to stay on top of things. Most extracurricular activities have also been moved online, removing the fun from the typical out-of-class experiences that students enjoy. Last year, my clubs served as a much-needed break: a time to hang out with friends who care about similar issues. Although many clubs are making efforts to make online meetings enjoyable after a long day of Zoom classes, it can be difficult for students to overcome Zoom fatigue and attend a club meeting which is, yet again, online. 

These academic constraints have been combined with everything happening in the world around us. Concerns about our health, the health of others and the state of our world are ever-present. We have to deal with the stress of changing government orders and social isolation. The election has also been a major stressor for students. Living in a swing state where almost every commercial, YouTube advertisement and mailer is focused on the election has made it impossible to tune out the noise. Students who could be negatively impacted by the results of the election have felt the pressure of it on top of our academic and health-related stressors. 

The winter semester may be even more difficult than this one. Winter is always drearier than the fall. Given the high likelihood of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in the winter, it is likely that students will be stuck in their homes most of the time. With cold weather and short dark days, students will also be unable to do many stress-relieving outdoor activities, such as exercise, picnics on the Diag with friends and group studying in the Law Quadrangle. 

Having a week without high-stakes assignments would be extremely helpful. Students could use this time to catch up on work or take a much-needed mental health break. During this time, students would still attend online classes and could have small assignments. Therefore, the University would not need to worry about students traveling back and forth between their hometowns and campus. 

Some might argue that this break would hinder instructors’ ability to teach, but it would be a welcome respite for them. They are also experiencing unique issues related to the pandemic, such as learning new technologies and adapting to new teaching styles while balancing their family lives. A week without having to grade tests and assignments would also be a break for them. 

We keep hearing platitudes from the University about how they support us. However, what we really need is action. College on its own is tough, and when combined with our current situation, it is completely understandable why students are struggling. By adopting the CSG proposal, the University would show a commitment to student mental health and wellbeing. 

Isabelle Schindler can be reached at ischind@umich.edu


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.