We are exhausted.
Students are facing enough hardship as it is, having to deal with the pandemic, the recession, a national reckoning with race, political upset and extensive global chaos. Our families and friends are still losing their jobs, getting sick and dying.
The lack of breaks in our fall schedule tops off what has become an impossibly difficult semester. Resuming classes on University Day — the only remaining chance for a breather that students had from now until the end of finals — serves no purpose and is simply cruel.
The fall academic schedule was created so students could finish the semester before flu season, avoiding a "second wave" of the virus. Therefore, the health risks of COVID-19 wouldn’t be compounded by the health risks of contracting the flu. However, after the shift to remote learning, when the majority of students were kicked out of their on-campus housing, the initial appeal of an expedited semester has lost its validity. There are no longer concerns about students contracting the flu in the classroom or on campus — so why are we still not getting any breaks?
Perhaps most concerning is the decision to remove reading days from the fall semester exam schedule entirely. Reading days are essential to well-being and academic performance, as they provide students with a much-needed opportunity to recharge amid the stress and chaos of final exams. Now, students face back-to-back exams without even stopping to catch our breath after nearly 12 uninterrupted weeks of class.
Other universities, such as Duke University and the University of Virginia, allotted these critical days in their respective schedules. So why didn’t UNC do the same?
Expecting students to push through the entire semester with no breaks and no reading days is unrealistic, and burnout is inevitable. Burnout can be attributed to poorer performance, depression and a higher probability of contracting illness due to a declining immune system — exactly the opposite of what our current schedule is attempting to do. The entire premise of a no-break semester in the name of public health is hypocritical, since student health flounders as a direct result of the very system that attempted to protect it.
Students are already feeling overworked and exhausted — and we aren’t even halfway through the semester. It might be inconvenient to adjust the fall schedule, but so was having to move out of the classroom and off campus. It's not too late to, at the very least, reintroduce reading days and fall break into the fall semester schedule to ensure students can do their best work and stay as healthy as possible.
As students, we are proud to be members of the UNC community, but that pride is getting harder and harder to muster. We expect the administration to have our best interests at heart. The decision to not implement breaks into our schedule feels like blatant disregard for our mental and physical health during this already fraught time of crisis, and, frankly, we’re disappointed.
The University needs to reintroduce breaks and reading days into our schedule. The administration may have taken an off-ramp — but now it’s time to pump the brakes.
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