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A student passes through campus with a Spikeball net, a popular outdoor activity during Penn's 2021 Spring Stay. Credit: Ana Glassman

Penn's "Spring Stay," which took place over the two days off on March 10 and 11, was met with mixed reactions from students who were excited by the events, but frustrated by the limited number of available spots.

Spring Stay included a number of free University-sponsored events such as an all-campus treasure hunt, photoshoots at the LOVE statue, class ice skating nights, and excursions to other parts of the city, including the Philadelphia Zoo and Morris Arboretum. The events were designed to promote student well-being and discourage travel outside of Philadelphia to limit the spread of COVID-19. Students who participated described the outings as fun and safe, but said shortening spring break did little to reduce travel. 

In an email to all students on March 5, Vice Provost for University Life Mamta Motwani Accapadi and Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé announced the University's plans for Spring Stay, writing that many of the events would require advance registration. Accapadi and Dubé urged students to review the schedule and sign up quickly to secure a spot. 

But when students tried signing up for the activities shortly after receiving the email, many discovered that registrations had already closed. 

College first year Nick Rutherford said that the limited capacity of the events that required advance registration made for a disappointing Spring Stay. Ice skating, which was open only to first years on Friday, was fully booked less than half an hour after he received the email, Rutherford said.

“When I found out about the activities, including opportunities to visit a zoo, aquarium, and penitentiary, I was very excited. However, when I tried to sign up for them, every activity was filled,” he said. 

Rutherford, who is a low-income student, said he asked the activity directors to cover the cost of attending the trips on his own but was denied. 

Wharton first year Katherine Hu said that she experienced similar difficulties signing up for Spring Stay events, but that she enjoyed staying on campus during the days off. 

“It was a really nice time to just not have to think about school work, and the weather was really, really nice,” she said.

Hu added that the break gave her the opportunity to meet new friends and explore Philadelphia after receiving an especially difficult workload during the week leading up to Spring Stay. 

Other students previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian that they were frustrated by professors who still assigned work on the days off, reporting no decrease in workload.

College sophomore Leah Lerner was one of the students who was able to secure a spot on one of the University-sponsored excursions, a trip to the Morris Arboretum.

“I loved it. I’m a big nature person, so it was really nice to get off campus,” she said. “I thought it was really well organized. It felt very COVID-19-safe on the bus, and I felt they really did a good job with what they had.”

Lerner said she was one of 13 people who went to the arboretum, although 20 had originally registered. She said she was lucky to get the spot since she was checking her email just as the University notification was sent out.

“When I told everybody I was going to the Morris Arboretum, they thought I won the lottery," Lerner said. "They’re not incentivizing staying very well if only 20 people can come to the Morris Arboretum.”

The University split the typical week-long spring break into several days off throughout the semester, including Spring Stay and three Engagement Days to limit opportunities for travel.

Dubé, who helped coordinate Spring Stay, previously told the DP that he is bracing for the undergraduate COVID-19 positivity rate to increase as a result of student travel during the days off. He urged returning students to take precautions and quarantine for 10 days.

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