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Credit: Ava Cruz

Many students are frustrated with Penn's decision to shorten spring break, after the University announced  preliminary scheduling plans for the spring semester in an email to the community Thursday afternoon.

The University began laying groundwork for the spring, allotting just March 10 and 11 for spring break and pushing back the start of the spring semester by one week to Jan. 20. In the email sent to the Penn community, Penn President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett, and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli committed to providing a comprehensive spring semester plan by mid-November. There was not, however, any definitive decision on whether students would be allowed to live on campus.

Penn administrators wrote that the decision to modify spring break was made in an effort to "discourage travel during the pandemic," similar to the reason they canceled fall break this semester.

Within hours of the announcement, students had created a petition urging the University to reconsider the decision to shorten spring break. The petition, which at the time of publication had 35 signatures, cited increased class workloads as well as mental and physical health as reasons as to why Penn should reinstate a full spring break. 

College senior Saachi Datta said Penn's decision to shorten spring break was devastating because she and her peers will neither get the chance to travel together before graduation nor have a break from classes.

"The spring semester is a very go-go-go semester and there aren't very many breaks to begin with," Datta said. "We are feeling it right now with the cancelation of fall break so knowing spring break will only be two days is concerning."

Penn has recently stood by its plan to cancel fall break, even as students have petitioned the University to reinstate the break to provide and provide everyone with time away from computer screens. 

College sophomore George DeVries said though he was disappointed spring break was shortened, he thinks it is ultimately a good decision in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But DeVries hopes Penn will consider adding a number of extended weekends over the spring semester as an alternative to a week-long spring break in an effort to give students time away from classwork. 

As a member of the Penn's rowing team at Penn, he also said he hopes the mid-November decision will also explain how athletics will operate in the spring.

DeVries and Datta both said they were happy to have received an email about next semester this far in advance from Penn, and they are hopeful that the spring semester could be conducted in-person.

"As a senior, I was really excited by the possibility of students being able to come back. Not all of my friends have off-campus housing so it would be great to be able to finish off our four years together, even if we have to be socially distanced," Datta said.

For seniors, including Datta and College senior Heta Patel, the possibility of returning to campus is an exciting one, she hopes certain Penn traditions will be rescheduled for her year, including Hey Day, which proceeded virtually last spring. 

Patel said while she is upset to such a short break, she is more than willing to sacrifice that in order to have any in-person experience in the spring.

Wharton sophomore and Class of 2023 President Derek Nhieu said Penn Student Government leaders have already penned a response to school's plan. Nhieu said PSG would likely write to administrators requesting that, if Penn were to hold another entirely virtual semester, spring break be reinstated in full.

Nheiu said he also hopes Penn will provide transparency throughout the decision-making process and especially when announcing the comprehensive plan in mid-November.

"A lot of people had issues with how Penn reversed the fall semester plan in what felt like the last second," he said. "This impacted a lot of people negatively. At the very least, it would be helpful if Penn communicated both the ideal plan as well as what would happen if there needs to be another last-second change."

For College sophomore Lauren Henderson, who is currently on a gap year, today's announcement only reaffirmed her decision to take a year away from Penn. 

"One of the main reasons I decided to take a gap year was because of the lack of clarity from Penn this summer," Henderson said. "With the pandemic being so unpredictable, it makes sense that Penn might have to change the decision after making one in mid-November, like they did this summer, and that's exactly what I wanted to avoid."

Patel said she has similar concerns and while she is glad Penn set a date for announcing a specific plan, she does not believe it will be final.

"The pandemic is unpredictable. I don't think that the [mid-November] decision will be the final one. I don't think we will get a final decision until January," Patel said. "Until I am on my flight back to Philadelphia, I don't think we'll know what will happen."