Utica College announces no spring break next semester, shorter dispersed breaks a possibility


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Rebekah Hedeen, Assistant Features Editor

This post was updated for clarity on 10/22/2020 at 8:48 p.m.

Utica College announced how the spring semester will be handled in an email this week from President Laura Casamento and Provost Todd Pfannestiel, which highlighted the news of no spring break next semester.

“Classes for all undergraduate and graduate ground campus students, including in-person, online, and hybrid classes, will begin on Monday, January 25, 2021, one week later than the originally planned start date of January 18,” Casamento noted in an sent to the student body. “Spring semester final exams will conclude on Friday, May 7, 2021.”

The semester will run uninterrupted with talks of some breaks during the week for students. Pfannestiel stated five reasons for canceling spring break, including:

  • It permits everyone to push through the flu season an additional week before returning for classes; so there is a health consideration.
  • It permits out-of-state students the opportunity to more easily satisfy the New York State requirement for a 14-day quarantine upon return to Utica; several of our students arrive from states on the quarantine list and will need that time after traveling over the holidays.
  • It permits faculty more time to prepare for the Spring term after a challenging Fall term.
  • It permits students an extended break to recover from the challenging Fall term as well.
  • It permits the College to have another phased-in “move-back” period for students to return and be covid-tested prior to the start of classes.

The decision to cancel spring break was not taken lightly and while it may have benefits to the overall health of the student body, a long semester with no breaks could have serious mental health implications.

“With spring break being canceled, students begin to wonder when and how they will be able to take time out to relax and relieve some stress,” said Tatiana Camacho, a staff writer at The Famuan, the student newspaper at Florida A&M University. “It is shown that taking a vacation and taking a break from studies can help improve one’s mental health and reduce stress and anxiety levels.”

With that in mind, Pfannestiel acknowledged that the college is are aware of the mental health concerns that could be detrimental to students and their ability to burnout.

“Of course, we are concerned about all of our students, faculty, and staff, as it relates to the long semester that lies ahead,” Pfannestiel said. “However, the thought of individuals traveling for a full week, even going home for the week, to areas that may not have the same extensive health and safety protocols in place that we have at Utica College, presents an even greater concern.  The health and safety of our students and employees, as it relates to their ability to further their education at UC, is our paramount concern.”

Student Government Association President Peter Gaughan addressed the news of students potentially receiving breaks throughout the semester that will be formatted to fit COVID-19 travel policy.

“It has been suggested that [the school] will implement periodic shorter breaks throughout the semester so people get the breather they need without having a week to potentially travel too far and get exposed to COVID-19,” Gaughan said.

Depending on the course load of certain students, some may be forced to spend that time preparing for future assignments. Concerning the course layout, the spring semester will resemble the fall semester with fewer hybrid courses, according to Pfannestiel.

“We are looking at how things worked this semester and trying to build a spring semester that benefits from what we’ve seen work and not work this semester,” said Adam Pack, professor of biology and AAUP union president at UC. “So you can see some tweaks in terms of which classes are offered which way, and which specific format the ‘hybrid’ model takes in individual classes, but overall spring will be set up essentially like fall. Faculty will determine, for hybrid classes, what will work best for their specific class, and implement that model.”

The mental health of the student body as well as the employees is of great importance to the school but the sacrifice of spring break for physical safety is of greater importance.

“Yes, losing spring break is a sacrifice; however, the gains far outweigh that sacrifice that we will all be making,” Pfannestiel said.