This is the second year in a row that Penn has had a winter break lasting only 19 days. The 2016-2017 academic year parallels the current one with the same number of days off. The University’s academic calendar is set three years in advance with all breaks finalized from the 2017 fall term until the 2020 spring term. 

Penn’s hypercompetitive environment can be taxing on its students and stress can accumulate all semester, leading up to winter break. Honestly, 19 days does not seem like enough time to adequately switch gears from finals season at Penn to spending time with family during the holidays. For international students who pay thousands of dollars to fly home, spending only three weeks with their families and friends is ridiculous.  

Although the University tries to get involved by having a “Campus Conversation” and rolling out initiatives like the “Campaign for Wellness,” it still manages to not really listen to what its students need. As we transcend into finals and plunge into our winter breaks, in the back of my mind, I truly ponder over the question, “Is Penn doing all that it can for the mental health of its students?”

Since the start of this year’s fall term, there has been an increase in student deaths by suicide, many natural disasters, and executive orders such as the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. All of these events, this year in particular, have hit the Penn community very hard. After all that has happened, I implore the Penn administration to re-evaluate the academic calendar for next semester and the next two years. Students should have adequate breaks that enable them to de-stress and process everything that has happened since the beginning of the year. 

The biggest hurdle standing in the way is Pennsylvania state law that requires every class to meet 14 hours a semester and does not allow one semester to have more weeks than the other. According to a past DP article on why Penn has short winter breaks, “these laws apply to all colleges in Pennsylvania, public and private.” It baffles me that this is the excuse that Penn takes to justify why we have shorter breaks when there are other private colleges in the area that also follow the same Pennsylvania state law but have longer fall, winter, and spring breaks than Penn. 

Students at nearby Swarthmore College get a lot more time off. Since Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr College are in the Tri-Co Consortium, they have relatively similar academic calendars. These three small liberal arts schools just outside Philadelphia have a week off for fall break, about a month off between both semesters, and a slightly longer spring break by a day. It is important to note that these schools start on Sept. 4 and 5, a week later than Penn’s official start day of classes on Aug. 29, but they end a week after Penn’s official last day of its spring term, May 8.

All of these schools follow the same Pennsylvania state law. There’s no excuse why Penn does not have longer breaks. Summer vacation is “supposedly” extended by ending on May 8 because the University needs to have the space ready to house educational programs over the summer. Although Penn has an earlier end date than that of peer schools, these other institutions start their terms much later. The University is capitalizing on summer programs for high schoolers and has designed our academic calendar with them in mind. 

Photo: Gillian Diebold

We do not need to have such short breaks if other neighboring schools have found a way to comply with the law and give their students the adequate month off that they deserve.

The University has only simply acknowledged some of the significant events that have affected the student body in some way or another. If Penn really wants to effect positive change on the community, it will start off by re-evaluating its academic calendar to add longer breaks and reading days that, in return, show they actually care about their students’ mental health.


CARLOS ARIAS VIVAS is a College freshman from Stamford, Conn., studying communication. His email address is cariasv@sas.upenn.edu. “Convos with Carlos” usually appears every other Tuesday.

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