The University of South Carolina announced on Oct. 23, 2020, that the school will not be allowing the traditional spring break next semester that many students had hoped for. Instead, the university will be instating four "wellness days." The wellness days are currently scheduled for Feb. 25, March 12, March 30, and April 21.
During these holidays, students will have the opportunity to take a mental break from classes and assignments while taking part in community events to improve their mental health. This decision was made to prevent students from leaving campus during spring break, which would put many at risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 to campus. The wellness days are meant to serve as a break for students, while also preventing the spread of infection. However, the decision has caused backlash from many students, who say that the wellness days won't function as an adequate break and instead punish students in a system that has already made this semester more challenging than normal. “We’ll be at a year of quarantine," one student, Ellie Hill, said. "And people are getting really tired of it and wouldn’t want to follow the rules.”
Michael Daubler, another student, thought the decision was hypocritical in light of other decisions made by the university. “I think it’s hypocritical to use safety as the guide to disrupting spring break. Since we already have students misbehaving and breaking these rules on campus with almost no punishment, it’s stupid to use it as an excuse to disrupt our break,” Daubler said.
Many students believe the wellness days would not function as they were intended, with student Lindsay Bean saying that they would simply use the day as a reason to catch up on assignments, and Hill saying they would use the day to catch up on sleep. Not every student wouldn’t be taking any measures to help their mental health on these days.
“They’re just going to feel like another class day, especially with asynchronous classes and the lack of routine or structure.” Daubler said. These days will not act as wellness days for most students, they’ll act as schooldays with no class, and that will not help students’ mental health at all.
But maybe the university can implement events on these days that would promote wellness, such as yoga or other activities. When asked what events the college could run to promote health during these days, Hill and Bean said that therapy dogs could be very helpful, as they would help destress students.
Bean and Daubler suggested that the campus promote counselors and therapists that can help students struggling with mental health related issues such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression. These resources are not widely known by the students on campus, which is a serious problem that many feel the university should address. People need to know the resources that exist to help them, and these wellness days would serve as a great opportunity to help fix that problem.
Could the college keep people safe and give them the break they need? Hill advocated for having students stay on campus during spring break, keeping them isolated but giving them the break. Daubler advocated for adding more wellness days and to include a pass/fail option to all classes. “It will do next to nothing to give us a handful of wellness days when school is more stressful than ever.” Daubler said.
When asked about whether traditional spring break was possible, Joseph Pearson, the leader of the Public Health Committee at the university, said, “We know that even during normal times, the spring break period prompts an increase in visits to student health services upon return to campus, mostly cold and flu.”
Since the health services already deal with an influx of cases following the break, it would be impossible to treat cases of COVID-19 on top of this, which could lead to complications or even deaths from COVID-19, something the university would want to avoid at all costs.
“It is certainly better than the alternative.” Pearson said. Pearson also said the committee worked to give breaks across the academic calendar and across the week, and also work to highlight mental health in their activities.
Student Life is working on events to promote mental health in the student population, and say that students’ suggestions could be vital to the creation of those events. When asked about potential alternatives, Pearson said it was hard to predict. “We don’t know what our condition will be in the spring, especially with the rising coronavirus cases in the country.” Pearson said.
While wellness days might function how the university envisions it will, the consensus from many students is that it feels like too little too late. The university needs to take more action to help its students to succeed, and the university has not done much to achieve this. Without real change to help students, the decision feels very hypocritical and condescending to the population it hopes to protect. But many faculty and staff at the university do want to help students to succeed. The biggest issue appears to be a lack of understanding from the faculty about what students need to succeed, and that’s where our voices matter. It’s important in these times to let your opinion be known, to make sure the university hears you. And if enough people speak, the university will listen.