Winter landscape with evergreen trees.

An extended break sounds great, but it has consequences for students

On Nov. 19, McMaster University announced that our winter semester classes will begin on Jan. 11, 2021, as opposed to Jan. 4, when they were initially supposed to begin. This change was recommended by the virtual learning task force, which consists of 31 faculty, students and staff members.

They stated that the reason for this is to support students’ wellness and mental health and providing faculty and instructors with extra time in preparing for the winter term. Mac also mentions that with this extra week, students who went home will now have an extra week to self-isolate to limit COVID-19 cases. 

While I am thankful for an extra week in many aspects, I think it’s important to consider the consequences of this decision.

For example, not all students will be able to enjoy this extended break. Health sciences students, with the exception of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program, are exempt from this break. This means that nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, physician assistant, medical students and more are unable to partake in the break, even if they really need it. In addition, graduate students who have planned their thesis defence for the week of Jan. 4 will not have the option to have this break.

Not only does this break already exclude a large group of students, but it may have consequences on our exam period. It’s important to note that the McMaster Daily News article states that classes will be extended into the exam period, that no classes will overlap with exams and that the semester will end as originally planned.

What this means is unclear, but we may no longer have a short break between classes and before exams. An extra week of winter break may also mean that our exam schedule is condensed, which can result in more back-to-back exams.

For me, these potential consequences of an extended winter break seem like a net negative. An extra week off is always good to have, but I’d rather have a break right before exams when I’m a lot more stressed and have my exams spread over a longer period of time.

What this means is unclear, but we may no longer have a short break between classes and before exams. An extra week of winter break may also mean that our exam schedule is condensed, which can result in more back-to-back exams.

Furthermore, if this is the response to added stress from a pandemic, their solution is weak. Other universities, such as the University of Toronto, made a much clearer statement about the reasoning behind the break and also stated that they are continuing to redesign its mental health services.

They also mention that employees who are returning on Jan. 4 will get three extra paid days off which can be used now until Aug. 31, 2021. U of T acknowledged the consequences of the pandemic by noting that students have been feeling a huge amount of stress for several months and that many U of T community members have dealt with unique challenges, such as at-home childcare. 

Obviously, U of T has its own set of issues that have yet to be addressed, but it is comforting to know that they have other action items that they are working on to improve the quality of life for students.

Most of all, this announcement had me frustrated. I’m worried that because students seem happy about this break — which we’re allowed to be happy about — Mac may think that these measures are good enough to support students during a pandemic. However, a break is not enough for me and it likely isn’t enough for many other students.

The way I see it is that Mac is focusing on strategies to cope with stress when they could be focusing on how to give us a less stressful workload. After all, we wouldn’t need breaks to deal with our increased levels of stress if we had less stress in the first place.

Image courtesy of C/O Bob Canning from Unsplash

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