Opinion: A semester without breaks helps no one

Domonique Tolliver

I think I can speak for everyone when I say that I am exhausted.

The COVID-19 spikes from holiday travel and an ongoing semester with no breaks frightens me. Even though students have asked Loyola for spring break or breaks during the spring semester, we were denied them. Mental health has been put on the back burner during this pandemic as institutions focus on maintaining profits and businesses try to stay afloat.

What institutions are ignoring is that the students who are begging for a break are the ones who keep them in business. Universities nationwide see the negative economic effects of their choice to ignore students’ needs as many students decide to take a gap semester.

As a freshman, college was already an adjustment for me. Never getting to slow down and take a break affected my motivation and overall outlook on college. I started to question if I could handle continually being stressed and isolated in front of a computer for the next four years. Other students and I are having trouble figuring out if college is really supposed to feel like this or if it is just the stress of the pandemic taking over.

While this year is different, it feels more or less the same. Before the pandemic, students had to help provide for their families, and many students had part-time jobs or were responsible for siblings and grandparents. Now, that stress that existed before the pandemic is amplified. Students have lost family members to COVID-19. Some students may be taking care of a loved one who is battling COVID-19. Universities across the country are out of touch with what students’ lives look like.

Loyola has justified the decision to eliminate breaks by expressing their concern that students will travel and gather in groups during a planned break, but Halloween showed us that the students who take the pandemic seriously would take it seriously, and those who want to party will continue to party. Whether or not we have a break does not affect that.

The poor decision to eliminate spring break has already been made, and to put it back in the schedule now will only put more stress on the university staff’s schedule. A solution I propose to giving students a break they need and staying within the schedule is through providing surprise mental health days.

By providing random mental health days, students will not know when they are and therefore can not plan to travel or gather but will take a break without worrying about falling behind in classes. Random longer weekends are another option so students can catch up on their work and have time to relax. Students and staff deserve a break.

We are adjusting to a traumatic pandemic and also adjusting to not having Mardi Gras break. Mardi Gras break is a time for students to relax before they potentially burnout in March. Lundi Gras break was to be determined, according to the academic calendar, but Loyola has decided to hold classes on Lundi Gras “due to large gatherings” in the beginning of the semester. This decision symbolizes the university turning its back on the students who pay tuition for it to run.

In October 2019, Colorado, Florida and many other states passed laws that allowed students to take mental health days throughout the year. Before the pandemic, students, universities and lawmakers acknowledged that a college semester, including spring break, is stressful. So why are universities less willing to give mental health days in a pandemic?

In a December Town Hall, University President Tania Tetlow said she was insulted by The Maroon’s editorial on breaks. While I understand that empty words may not have been her intention, it feels that way for students. We continue telling the university that we have never experienced anything like this and that we need a break. Still, it feels as if our claims are not even taken into consideration.

Loyola has offered helpful UCC sessions for students with stress and anxiety, but at the end of the day, we need a break. We need a few days to stop continually doing things and take a second for ourselves to breathe. We need to find a moment of calmness within a country currently in shambles from the top down. High unemployment, homelessness, hunger, racist institutions and an incompetent president have made this time even more stressful and unlike any other.

Loyola and universities nationwide can show empathy to students by initiating breaks. We are human beings, and we are exhausted.