This semester is the weariest one I’ve had yet. And I don’t particularly know why. Based on a very small, very biased survey of friends, this feeling is well-reflected in the student body. I have several theories, although knowing the root cause for general tiredness doesn’t do much. However, I do know the solution: More time off from school. I implore Cornell’s administration to consider more breaks next semester.
One obvious cause for our fatigue is COVID-19. As a student body, we’re also simply people constantly bombarded by the same pressures this virus has placed on the rest of society. With the threat of contracting a deadly disease hanging over each of us, we’re constantly thinking about our own safety. I can’t count the number of times I remember feeling overwhelmed because there were so many situations and people to think about. Being back in Ithaca meant preparing for whatever situation might hit. While the COVID-19 threat might be different for each Cornellian depending on their location and living situation, it’s uniformly stressful for all.
Dealing with disaster stress and COVID-19 fatigue are difficult enough on their own, as we found out during our extended spring break last semester and our summer break. But, adding the element of school has made this a terrifying storm of stress: Late nights, unhealthy eating and bawling in the bathroom all included. In any given semester, you can find students freaking out over their unnecessarily high number of credits and the prelims they have in the next week. With COVID-19, you have students under the same academic pressure without the on-campus support networks and social scenes they use to help them cope. Some classes have adapted better to the online environment, with professors who are capable of wielding Zoom and other platforms to distribute information to students ahead of time. But other classes have been less transferable to the mainly-online format of the semester, only contributing to the stressful environment.
Moreover, in any given semester, we’d have more breaks. We’d have an additional day attached to a weekend for fall break and, importantly, a less compressed semester. This isn’t to say I’m not thankful for this year’s one day break. I can barely imagine the semester without it. I spent the day with a few friends, safely socially distanced, and we were able to get some barbeque I had been craving for months. Yet, I had problem sets and other homework due on the following days, and my roommate had an exam throughout the “fall break.” Which is ridiculous — our breaks should be sacrosanct, because that is, after all, the point of a break.
In light of this abject need for rest, the Cornell administration should think more carefully about the possibility of an extended break in the spring semester. There is not yet a spring break on the academic calendar, meaning that some of these plans have not yet been finalized; if they have, the details have not been released to the public. I understand the COVID-19 planning committee’s hesitation to allow students the chance to travel and return to campus, but with strict guidelines and the widespread surveillance testing we have already been conducting, the administration is faced with balancing student welfare with only a slightly higher chance of increasing the prevalence of the virus. Both are important, and we can do no less than to convince the administration of the necessity of even a little vacation time.
In the meantime, however, I plan to schedule breaks in my calendar. Pockets of respite when I’m off screen or off the grid, unable to be contacted on any platform. Times when I can think deeply about my faith, or process what’s been going on in my life or simply just physically rest. I need it, and I’m sure you do too.
Darren Chang is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Swamp Snorkeling runs alternate Thursdays this semester.