This past Thursday, the University announced major changes to the spring 2021 calendar, postponing the start of the semester and reducing spring break to a two day, mid-week break to reduce student travel. Many students slammed Penn’s decision in the immediate aftermath, with over 100 students signing a petition urging Penn to reconsider. The petition cited concerns surrounding both mental and physical health as reasons to reinstate a full spring break.
While Penn’s student body would certainly appreciate a longer break, the University's desire to limit student travel is certainly a rightful one. Large scale travel in the context of a global pandemic could result in additional spreading of COVID-19, and endanger the people of Philadelphia. However, there is a chance for the University to both limit student travel and give students time off in the middle of the semester. To protect the mental health of its student body, while also protecting the physical health of West Philadelphia, Penn should add an additional mini-break of two days to the calendar.
Having a second two-day break would provide several benefits to the Penn community. Most obviously, doing so would give students a chance to preserve both their physical and mental health. Studies have shown that giving people more breaks improves both their health and productivity. Given the Penn community's frequent reckonings with mental health, such a break would provide an important relief in a very stressful environment.
Secondly, a second short break doesn't just benefit students. As the Editorial Board noted in its op-ed last week, many professors face substantial challenges in their personal lives, such as having to arrange child care. Giving a second break to Penn's professors would allow them to spend time with families, and take a much-needed reprieve from teaching constant online classes. Giving an additional break would also benefit support staff at the University for the same reasons.
Adding a second minibreak would also serve the purpose of restricting student travel, at least as much as the shortened spring break would. A two-day break in the middle of the week, such as Tuesday and Wednesday or Wednesday or Thursday, would give students less of a cushion when it comes to unnecessary travel. Even a Thursday and Friday break would not encourage travel nearly as much as a week-long break would. While such travel would ordinarily be optimal for many students, it is a terrible idea in the middle of a global pandemic.
Some may argue that Pennsylvania state law prevents Penn from instituting such a break. While this is certainly a roadblock, there is a simple fix; start school two days earlier. Given the fact that the start of the academic year has already been postponed by a week, taking two days off the end of winter break would still leave students with a longer than usual gap between semesters.
These are unprecedented times; on top of the normal stresses of the academic year, students, faculty, professors, and families face considerable anxiety about their physical and mental well-being during the largest global crisis since World War II. Giving students a few extra days off may seem like a small maneuver, but it would provide considerable relief for many.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.