April 7, 2021

YAO | Give Me a Break

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During one of the wellness days in March, I took the advice on the Cornell University Instagram page to take a long walk around campus and refresh. My sense of rejuvenation lasted for all of two and a half minutes until I remembered an assignment deadline fast approaching. I spent the majority of those two days catching up on work and cramming for a quiz scheduled for the Friday of that week. Based on the number of people hunched over laptops in the Physical Sciences Building where I was studying, I wasn’t the only one who viewed wellness days as synonymous with workdays. 

I hate to break it to you, Cornell, but four random days off during the semester don’t count as a real “mental health break.” Even during a non-pandemic semester, by this point in the year students are running on fumes. Spring break usually acts as an oasis of reprieve within the mid-semester slump and offers a chance to muster up enough motivation to tackle the latter part of the semester. Regardless of how much you might love your major or your life in Ithaca, experiencing some level of burnout proves inevitable. Now, throw COVID burnout and Zoom fatigue into the mix along with that good ole’ school stress, and an extended break becomes more vital than ever. 

On a topical level, I fully understand why Cornell decided to cancel spring break. More time off equates to more opportunities to travel, party and engage in other unsafe behavior and thus, a higher probability of spreading the virus. However, the hard truth is that shortened breaks do not prevent people from breaking the rules of Cornell’s COVID protocol. For the wellness days in March, many students traveled out of state and some may try to leave campus again for the long weekend in April. Furthermore, large MBA student meetings as well as North Campus dorm gatherings led to coronavirus outbreaks during a normal stretch of the semester. 

Recently, as a result of these spikes in cases, Cornell was forced to listen. The school enacted a series of consequences for non-compliance that includes loss of access to Canvas and campus WiFi networks. Many –– myself included –– have long questioned why the school has held off on penalizing missed tests, especially since surveillance testing acts as Cornell’s first line of defense against preventing community spread. The new revisions show that the school has always had the power to enforce testing compliance on campus. If such restrictions were in place from the beginning, would it have made a difference whether we got two school days off at a time as opposed to five?

Implementing a mandatory testing schedule during the one week of spring break would keep the large majority of students on campus and cautious while providing some much-needed quality time away from schoolwork. Study days masquerading as wellness days just don’t cut it anymore. Not when professors make homework due almost immediately after or assign work for the next week to make up for lost time. Not when failing to keep up with classes during the two days increases stress later down the road. A week-long spring break would have been possible this semester –– and it would have shown that Cornell values our mental health just as much as our physical health. 

Katherine Yao is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column, Hello Katie, runs every other Wednesday this semester.