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Haverford’s typical week-long spring break was abbreviated to just two short days at the end of March. Ostensibly, this was done in order to mitigate the COVID-19 concerns that accompany a traditional spring break. That said, the most recent round of mass testing, which would have identified any cases from the March 27–30 pause, has revealed zero positive cases among the student body. The College has a 0% positivity rate for this testing cycle (far below the 7% positivity rate of Delaware County at large) and has not had a single case since late February.
It would be impossible for this public health feat to have come to fruition without substantial tradeoffs to the mental and physical health of Haverford’s students. Living a sanitized life with few close contacts and an almost entirely online academic environment is undoubtedly taxing. I am calling on the administration, in recognition of the student body’s proven commitment to COVID-19 safety and the deeply-felt need for rest and recuperation, to grant students an additional short pause at the end of April.
While it might be tempting to object to this proposal on the grounds of its disruptiveness to already planned course syllabi, I urge the administration to give College faculty some credit. Professors have repeatedly proven capable of responding to unforeseen interruptions in the academic calendar (see: the March 2020 transition to remote learning and the Oct 2020 strike). While their reactions may not have been perfect, I would be surprised if the administration would suggest that this prevented students from receiving the excellent liberal arts education that has been consistently promised to us in Haverford’s COVID-19 planning. More than that, a number of professors were unaware of the initial pause until students reminded them. Clearly, if professors could adapt then, they can adapt again!
Admittedly, concerns about the disruptiveness of cancelling class are valid. That said, I believe the benefits that students and faculty will feel from the time off far outweigh the harms associated with this brief disruption. The structure of this spring’s academic calendar places many obstacles in the way of students thriving. In a typical semester, we have a minimum of five days off for break (usually seven in the fall, for Thanksgiving and fall break, and a five-day spring break). The relatively shorter break in the spring was traditionally balanced by an extra week for finals, which always eased some stress. That is not the case in Spring 2021, when we will have just one week for final exams.
Worse still, when Haverford delayed the start of the semester by two weeks to respond to changing COVID-19 conditions, this also meant pushing the last day of final exams to May 22, a week later than normal. When many students would have had several weeks off before an early-June beginning to their internship, they now have just a few days to relocate and decompress in their transition from school to work.
The administration claims, time and time again, to support students’ wellbeing. This claim, though, stands in stark contrast with an academic calendar that leaves many students running non-stop between the February beginning of the spring semester to the end of an internship or job in August, all while navigating an especially restrictive on-campus COVID-19 environment. I recognize that given the unpredictability of COVID, it is impossible to make perfect decisions, and I don’t believe that this schedule was designed to cause harm. That said, it clearly places many students in a position where they feel burnt out and overwhelmed.
Students have proven their ability to responsibly enjoy time off from class without assuming an unsafe level of COVID-19 risk. This demonstration of responsibility should be rewarded, especially considering that, by the end of April, the campus risk level will be considerably less as many students have become protected by vaccinations, received on campus or elsewhere. While an additional two-day break cannot entirely mitigate the stress created by this condensed schedule, it will provide at least some reprieve from a uniquely challenging semester and begin to equalize the amount of break days with previous semesters.