UB says it cares about our mental well-being.
That’s the message the university always tells us. We see it plastered on corridor walls as we walk between classes and featured prominently in emails and official speeches.
So how is it possible that at a time when 71% of students are reporting increased stress and an even greater percentage are experiencing difficulty concentrating and disruptions to sleep schedules, UB is about to embark on a completely break-less semester?
Actually, forget unfathomable. It’s much worse than that.
It’s a public health risk just like COVID, driving drunk or not sleeping.
We need breaks. It’s not a matter of want; it’s a basic need, especially for an age group battling the highest rates of depression. We have seen so many examples over the past few years — not just across the U.S., but also at UB, where students have attempted and died by apparent suicide — suggesting that what students actually need is more, not fewer, off days.
And yet, here we are.
About to embark on a break-less, 15-week semester.
One hundred five consecutive days of lectures, homework, presentations, quizzes and exams. Sure, we will still have weekends — thank goodness for weekends. But in the thick of the semester, when we are drowning in work, weekends are less a reprieve from the rest of the week and more an extension of it. I can’t tell you how many Sundays I’ve spent sitting at my desk, memorizing public health terminology or furiously writing midterm essays.
It’s astounding that at the same time mental health is considered an “epidemic” on college campuses, UB’s solution is to get rid of all breaks.
And yes, I understand UB’s rationale: holding spring break during a global pandemic is a potential public health crisis of its own. Especially after last March, when students from colleges around the U.S. flocked to Florida and openly flouted social distancing rules — with smiles on their faces.
As such, not holding spring break makes sense.
Not having off days sprinkled in throughout the semester, however, doesn’t.
Especially when the SUNY guidelines specified that campuses are “allowed to build in single-day, midweek reading days throughout the semester as an alternative instructional pause.” And especially after the Faculty Senate considered “at least” three versions of the spring calendar — including one that the Council for Advocacy and Leadership pushed for which would have prioritized student mental health.
We saw what happened last semester, when students took to social media to express just how difficult taking classes during a pandemic can be.
They were upset that with the exception of Thanksgiving break, UB didn’t offer any other off days: not for Election Day, not for Labor Day, not for any of the religious holidays. This, at a time when we faced unprecedented fear.
Health, which most of us 18-25-year-olds rarely consider, suddenly became a source of stress. We also had to worry about and grieve for sick and dying family and friends.
Yet, as much as UB “cares” about all our problems, administrators still decided not to offer us an alternative grading option, even when thousands of students pleaded for one.
UB’s love clearly has its limits.
This semester — arguably harder than last semester, with COVID rates soaring and pandemic fatigue setting in — those limits mean 15 consecutive weeks of classes.
In December, a UB spokesperson reminded The Spectrum that the university hosts a wide range of academic support services, virtual wellness workshops and counseling options, all of which are free. That’s wonderful and they should absolutely be utilized.
But right now, more than anything, we need days off. We need time to catch up on work, get ahead on assignments and maybe, just maybe, to sleep in.
Here’s to hoping UB rethinks its choices, prioritizes our mental health and gives us the break — or breaks — we deserve.
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald.