Today more than ever, students need to step away from their studies and Vanderbilt must respect those limits.
Before the Thanksgiving break, waves of homesickness hit me harder than ever. the added the obligations, social opportunities and anxiety that come with college in person, not to mention the infamous fraternity flu– had buried me. My usually adventurous and outgoing self became desperate for my mom’s pasta, my cats and my crib. I’m usually not thrilled to land at the dismal TF Green Airport, but on November 19, I felt like I was arriving at Disney World.
I vowed to use my break to take a well-deserved break from my studies by basking in the luxury of sleeping after 8 a.m., having access to my mom’s closet, and showering with bare feet. Anyway, I intended to do nothing.
Fast forward 10 days to eagerly awaiting BNA baggage claim, counting the minutes I was wasting that could have been spent tackling my mounds of homework. Upon arriving on campus, I faced choirs of similar woes from my peers about not completing enough work during their week off. Some had even returned to campus early to work in a productive environment. Our complaints weren’t just rooted in the work due this coming week, but in the work due or assigned. during the break that we had neglected. I had an assessment worth more than 10 percent of my final course grade due during Thanksgiving break, while others had papers and homework due.
Homework, exams, and projects during scheduled academic breaks undermine the purpose of a break.
The fact that students collectively felt guilty for not spending more time working during our academic mini-offseason – and on a national holiday – demonstrates the toxic workaholic culture Vanderbilt expects from us.
The ability to take a break without being constantly harassed by our academic obligations has been stolen from us. We have been conditioned to be hard on ourselves, knowing that the alternative is underperformance.
For many, Thanksgiving was the first time they had seen family and childhood friends in months. For others, it was also a time of renewed anguish. In middle school, it’s relatively easy to ignore home trauma, but it’s not so easy when surrounded by painful memories at home, in the form of pictures, landmarks, pictures, distinct odors and a glaring absence, among others. Especially considering the pandemic, more students than ever are facing a devastating loss amplified by returning home to the holidays. Combine this dynamic with potential family obligations, limited internet access, and / or a lack of a suitable study area: are these really conditions under which students are expected to perform?
When I entered my home on November 19, the features of my grandfather’s house stared at me. My parents cleaned her house up to her knees, and her faux ivy leaves, wall decorations, lamps, and even tissue boxes were scattered all over the house. I was gone to school a month after her jarring death, and by the time I returned home, the glue I had used to glue together pieces of my broken heart had lost some of its hold. The last thing I wanted to do was sign on Brightspace or think about the APA format.
Our workload did not decrease after our leave. Many students were given homework during or just before the vacation to be handed in immediately after the vacation, leaving no choice but to work it during their week off. My stubbornness in shutting down my computer during the 10 days I was at home – 10 days set aside for rest – led me to stumble and fall into an abyss of deadlines.
Is a break really a break if being absent from school harms students?
The lack of consideration for students’ basic need for rest is evident all year round at Vanderbilt, not just on vacation. Homework is often due on weekends or given on Fridays to be handed in at the start of the following week. While weekends are a great time to do homework, students shouldn’t be strength spend their free time in a booth on the sixth floor of the Central Library. Students are prevented from using their weekends to attend to their personal needs, including quality time with friends, social activities, sleep, alone time and exercise without feeling guilty about do it. This practice sets an internal timer until the end of the semester; we shouldn’t have to go through the “good old days” to quench our frenzied thirst for a break.
The heavy academic pressure on the students was fully demonstrated during the week of the finals. We were given three reading days, two of which are on the Saturday and Sunday preceding the week of the finals. What is the point of allocating weekends, predetermined days off, to reading days? During one of the most stressful parts of the semester, students deserve real reading days. Days that give more respite than typical weekends, days without homework and academic obligations, days that encourage students to take a break from their studies and revisit their passions, and maybe even days that offer Free Rand cookies, like Last year.
Ironically, the designation of weekends as reading days shows how the administration turns a blind eye to the school’s tax expectations. By identifying weekends as reading days, they recognize that Saturdays and Sundays are generally not days free from academic deadlines and obligations.
No matter what days they fall, teachers ignore the terminals days of reading. I still had two final projects due during these “days off,” a pattern reflected in the workload of my peers.
As a home to some of the so-called happiest students in the country, I don’t want to know which borders other universities are violating. Whether it’s writing a 1,000-word article like this, or something perhaps more typical of a student, like going down conspiracy theory rabbit holes on YouTube, it’s important. to take time for ourselves, especially during a time of increased stress and change. Vanderbilt must prevent faculty from giving deadlines during breaks and weekends and eliminate weekend reading days to ensure students can maintain their personal well-being without academic ramifications or guilt.
I have found that my academic expectations have eased over the winter break, contrasting with those over the Thanksgiving vacation and reading days. However, due to the end of classes, there was no deadline or homework to be given. Even so, faculty should observe these same boundaries throughout the semester and respect the fact that students have lives and personal needs beyond academics.
A break must be a break.