In mid-December last year, ASU announced the cancellation of spring break to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. When the decision was announced, however, the University did not provide any alternatives for the lost downtime, instead opting to end the semester a week early.
This is a problem for many reasons, the chief of which being that 15 weeks straight with only one day off at the beginning of the semester is unreasonably stressful and difficult for both students and faculty. Many classes are almost completely virtual this semester, potentially contributing to burnout.
The University's decision to cancel spring break without presenting a reasonable alternative, like wellness days, is damaging to the productivity and wellbeing of the ASU community.
Many other universities around the nation, such as UA, have instated wellness or reading days, wherein the five working days that would have gone toward a traditional spring break are broken up and spread over the course of the term to provide downtime for those who need it.
We definitely need them.
“A lot of people that I've spoken with, myself included, feel like an accelerated semester is really exhausting, and to not even have a day off since the very beginning of the semester is making it so much worse,” said Katherine Martin, a sophomore studying journalism.
Like many other ASU students, Martin works a demanding service industry job, especially stressful in these times.
“I would say (Zoom) makes the situation worse, because I’m not getting a change of scenery ever," she said. "Some days, if I have too much going on, I won't even go outside once and I won't even realize it until later in the day ... because it gets overwhelming just staying in one place."
READ MORE: Students predict burnout ahead this semester with no breaks in sight
According to Sarah Tracy, a professor of organizational communication at The Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, burnout is “a general wearing out from a job or school.” Normally, burnout is characterized by three things: emotional exhaustion, decreased personal accomplishment and depersonalization, she said.
In depersonalization, “we're starting to see people not as these full, vivid, multifaceted human beings, but as sort of static images on a screen,” Tracy said. Depersonalization is an element of the growing phenomenon of “Zoom fatigue.”
Researchers from Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab found Zoom fatigue is caused by four main factors – an abundance of close-up eye contact, seeing oneself on the screen, reduced mobility and ability to observe social cues, and a high “cognitive load."
All of these lead to mental exhaustion and stress for participants, culminating in burnout.
“I would say ... I am a fan of having, if not a huge break for the fear of (spreading the virus), some of those smaller days sprinkled throughout,” Tracy said. "The issue, however, in terms of ASU, is this physical health hazard of spreading and bringing (COVID-19) back.”
This is a difficult situation for administrators to contend with, especially considering the large size of ASU’s student population, and allowing a week-long break could inadvertently encourage travel and contribute to the spread of the virus.
"One of the things that happened is all faculty, we were told that [break had been canceled], that this was going to be it," Tracy said. "And so, when we were told, we were as shocked as the students were."
Many faculty members at universities across the nation have been struggling with burnout since the beginning of the pandemic, and the numbers only seem to worsen in a profession that is frequently underappreciated and undercompensated.
Obviously, a few days off throughout the semester would not fix these deeper issues, but research shows that these wellness days could mitigate the long-term effects of burnout.
That being said, the lack of mental downtime for all people employed by or studying at the University is ridiculous.
Additionally, if ASU was really concerned with public health and mitigating the spread of the virus, then it shouldn’t have reopened in-person classes for the fall semester.
All in all, when the University administration decided to cancel a much-needed break to help palliate a situation that could've been avoided by not reopening in the first place, it heavily fumbled the ball.
At the very least, the University could have given us those five days off over the course of the semester in order to lighten our loads. Instead, they chose to take them away completely, leaving students and faculty with 15 weeks of ceaseless work and burnout.
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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