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By Rebecca Diers – SUNY Cortland
Before the spring semester started at SUNY Cortland, administrators announced that there will be no spring break this year because of Covid-19. In an attempt to still give students some sort of break, they instead implemented “Wellness Days.” These days were scheduled for two Tuesdays in the semester: March 9th and April 14th. This was done to prevent students from traveling home for this “break” to inhibit any positive Covid cases from spreading to other areas, and from students bringing the virus back to the Cortland area. The first Wellness Day occurred last week, but despite the school’s best attempts to encourage a mental health break—such as by scheduling events like bowling, rock climbing, triathlons, and more—many students were frustrated with the amount of work they still had to complete on this “day off,” and longed for the spring break that is much needed after going to classes and doing schoolwork for six weeks.
When students at SUNY Cortland first learned of the Wellness Days, there were some mixed reactions. Some were upset that only two days off were being offered, whereas others were grateful that they were getting those two days at all. Matt, a Physical Education major, was one student who felt frustrated with the lack of days off. He said, “I think it is unfair that we are getting two days off instead of the five that we were supposed to get for spring break.”
I think it is important to point out that some schools across the country did not give their students any days off this semester because of Covid, which is why many students felt disappointed, but still grateful. Rachel, a Therapeutic Recreation major, is one of these students who felt grateful. She said, “I knew before the wellness days that we weren’t getting a spring break, so I was a little happy that we were getting at least something.” Despite this, she was still disappointed that the students were not being given a spring break but knows there is nothing that can be done about it now.
Sam, who is a Physical Education major with a concentration in Outdoor Education, was optimistic about these Wellness Days at first, until reality began to set in: “My initial thoughts were positive. I thought since the semester started a week later than usual it made sense that they took away our spring break. However, when the first Wellness Day was approaching, I realized it was almost pointless because so many teachers made assignments due Wednesday, the day after the Wellness Day, so I had a lot of work to do on the Wellness Day. On top of that I was in quarantine, so I couldn’t even participate in any of the planned activities.”
One of the intentions of the school by creating these “Wellness Days,” was to give students a much-needed mental break from all of their schoolwork. On these days, students were told that they will not have class, and that no work was to be due. However, many students did not feel as though they received a “mental break” like the school intended. This was because they still had work that was due the day after, just like Sam mentioned. Instead of relaxing or taking part in one of the many activities the school held throughout the day, there were some students who were stuck at home or in their dorms trying to get their assignments for the next day done.
When asked how she spent her Wellness Day, Tabitha, who is a History major, said, “I forced myself not to do schoolwork for the first half of the day, and that was mostly just me trying to look after myself—not so much me doing what the college wanted me to do. But the second half of the day I had to do schoolwork. I had essays that were due on Wednesday. So as much as it was supposed to be a mental health break and screen time break, I still had work that was due the day after so it didn’t really feel like a true break.”
Rachel echoed this feeling when she said, “I did homework during my Wellness Day. And slept in a little. But mostly homework. They talked about the wellness days being a time to do all these fun activities—they allowed you to sign up for stuff—and told professors not to post homework for that day, but that didn’t prevent professors from having homework due the next day, or just a bunch of big projects. So it didn’t really help at all.”
On this first Wellness Day, Sam posted a poll on his Instagram where he asked his followers, “Are you able to enjoy your Wellness Day or are you stuck doing homework and working?” He graciously shared the poll results with me, and the results greatly reflected the ineffectiveness of this first Wellness Day. Out of all the students who answered his poll, 76% answered with the option, “So much work to do,” and only 24% answered with, “Wellness!” This shows how the majority of students did not have the chance to actually relax, because of the amount of work they had to do.
Because of these students’ reactions, I thought it would be insightful to hear what should be changed and what should remain the same for the next Wellness Day. There seemed to be a consensus that the activities that were hosted by the school were a good idea and should be held again in April. Matt even made a suggestion for improving these activities: “The activities and group exercise classes offered for wellness day were great! I think in order to work on mental wellness, the school should offer some mindfulness class to their group exercise class.”
Students also felt as though the next Wellness Day should be moved to a different day so that they can have a longer break. Sam said, “I think the Wellness Day should be on a Friday so we can have a three-day weekend. This way we won’t have to worry about class the next day or assignments due the next day because it would be a Saturday.”
Tabitha added on to this by saying, “I think there has to be more clarity between the students and the faculty and the administration. I understand that the school can’t mandate professors not to assign work the day after, however if you’re looking out for your students’ health, there should be an understanding that—don’t have a test or an assignment or a large essay the day after a wellness day.”
Looking towards the future, students are hopeful that normal breaks will be returned to them, as they do not feel as though these Wellness Days are effective. Rachel said, “If we are able to go back to normal semesters and normal socialization, I think we need spring break. Wellness days, as they are right now, are not helpful to us.”
Tabitha agreed with Rachel’s statement, and said, “One Wellness Day is fine—I get it, because this year is just a weird year. But in terms of looking towards the future, students need a spring break. They need multiple days off consecutively so that they can actually do no screen time.”
While being given these Wellness Days is better for students than having no days off at all during the semester, it ultimately seemed as though they are not being used like the school intended. Professors assigning work to be due the day after the Wellness Day did not give many students the mental break that they needed, leaving only some with the chance to actually relax. Despite the school’s best efforts to host events for the students to participate in to make these Wellness Days feel worth it, students still wish for their normal break to be returned, once it is possible. If mental health is the school’s priority with these Wellness Days, it does not seem as though their goal was achieved.
I am interested in hearing your opinions: Do you think two days off in the semester is enough to satisfy students’ mental health? Do you think students’ mental health is declining from remote learning and from living through this pandemic? Feel free to let me know your thoughts on this topic, or about how schools and universities are offering breaks this semester amist Covid in your area, at my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rebecca Diers is interning with Pressenza as a part of her Professional Writing major at SUNY Cortland. Her other major in Anthropology fuels her passion for understanding different cultures and making connections with people. She uses writing as a way to make sense of the world, and to inspire a sense of humanity in her audience.