According to the College Crisis Initiative, 59% of universities in the United States either replaced or completely canceled their 2021 Spring Break as of March 31st, 2021. This decision is certainly understandable. Spring break is often associated with massive parties, which would now be classified as superspreader events as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Canceling spring break prevents college students from traveling, thus preventing transmission and spread of the COVID-19 virus.
This may seem like a great idea on paper, but unfortunately, this decision has substantial repercussions on the mental health of students nationwide. Contrary to popular belief, spring break isn’t all about partying. Many students actually use their spring break to decompress after midterms, catch up on classwork, and prepare for a mentally demanding finals season. Without the opportunity to rest and recover, students ultimately have an academic sprint to the end of the year. Students mental health struggles have been heightened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lack of any sort of break only exacerbates this problem.
Burnout is the name of the game this semester, as students become rushed from deadline to deadline. When you think you have completed your assignments, another two pop up to take their place. Things are especially difficult for those in project-based courses or those in quantitatively challenging majors, such as engineering and physics, as there’s no time whatsoever to catch up if you fall behind. There are certainly many ways to treat burnout, but these are only band-aid fixes that don’t treat the underlying problem. Students can’t expect to excel if they don’t have the energy to keep going.
What about those universities that decided to provide students with single days–often named “Wellness Days” or “Mental Health Days”–off instead of a week? Is that an acceptable compromise? According to many students, it’s not. The difference lies in the amount of time given and where the days are placed. I think the University of Arizona best exemplifies this difference. Rather than an entire spring break, they provided students with five “reading days.” These are essentially days to work rather than a replacement for spring break. Assignments, exams, and jobs exist regardless, and a single day here and there does not give students the proper time to recover as having a spring break does.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain, though, as some students–such as those at my own college, Arizona State University–don’t even get the luxury of single-day breaks. Instead, they have to go through a semester without any break whatsoever. As a student leader in mental health, I can’t begin to stress how much of a problem burnout has been this semester. I’ve seen it in my chapter members, in my friends, and even in myself. None of us have had a significant break since January, and since then, it’s been a never-ending slew of work that’s been detrimental to all of our mental health. I suppose the old adage, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” rings true because I honestly didn’t realize the necessity of a spring break until it was gone.
If there’s any comfort to be had in all of this, it’s that the Spring 2021 school year will shortly be behind us. There’s also a light at the end of the tunnel as people around the world continue to get vaccinated. Hopefully, next year, the pandemic will be under enough control so that spring break won’t need to be canceled, and students will be able to get the proper rest they need to excel–academically, physically, and especially mentally.