In the weeks leading up to winter recess, the Montclair State University administration announced a revised academic calendar to inhibit the risk of a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on campus as residential students planned a return to their dormitories.
An extension of winter break brought the beginning of the spring semester to the second week of February. Meanwhile, the end of the spring semester shifted to the last week of May and finally there was complete removal of the annual, week-long spring break.
Many other New Jersey universities decided to implement similar semester schedules. The idea of providing a single day off from coursework, known as a mental health day, became a popular possibility. The concept behind a mental health day is to provide students with the opportunity to use an open day to catch up on coursework, pick up an extra shift at their job or just to relax and decompress in the midst of yet another eerie semester.
Montclair State must have figured that wasn’t necessary.
Following the sudden death of a Montclair State student on campus earlier this semester, the university community has been sent emails from the administration promoting mental well-being and resources through which to seek help.
A survey was sent out to all university students as part of the Healthy Minds Study, a research campaign designed to gather data for dealing with mental health awareness and improvement.
Now, weeks later, as students continue on with their coursework and extracurricular activities, focus from the administration seems to have migrated elsewhere.
It is understood that the academic calendar had already been set in place before the semester began. However, a sudden change similar to one implemented this time last year in response to the COVID-19 outbreak exemplifies the university’s ability to affect a change in schedule as slight as one day off.
Common misconceptions of remote schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic downplay the toll it takes on students and fail to take into account the complete loss of social interaction and other important qualities of college life once enjoyed by students.
Regardless of the setting of student coursework, it is still a full semester’s worth of coursework. Whether it is being done remotely, in a socially distanced classroom or a hybrid of the two, the vast majority of students are taking course loads upwards of 15 credits, the same amount they have been earning each semester up until now.
However, meeting up with friends to grab lunch in between classes or going out on a weekend night is not an option anymore and these outlets for unwinding and relieving stress are lost.
A single day off to hit the reset button and do whatever you want is entirely doable and necessary. College years are supposed to be a time in one’s life to be enjoyed and to grow in. Sitting at home on a laptop all day does not accomplish that. Coursework is absolutely important, but there is more to the college experience.
The removal of spring break to curb the risk of a virus outbreak is completely understood, but we have now had three semesters taken away from us through no fault of our own. The least we deserve is a brief opportunity to get our minds right.