As the fall 2020 semester comes to a grueling conclusion at Binghamton University, many students have found themselves feeling burnt out long before finals week. As a result of COVID-19, the semester was condensed to include no breaks, save Thanksgiving. The spring 2021 semester appears to be no different in terms of administrative scheduling, which is a worrying prospect for those who’ve already been struggling.
To combat this fatigue, the administration announced that it would implement three, nonconsecutive “wellness days” into the semester schedule. The announcement came shortly after several Change.org petitions began circulating throughout the student body. Two of the petitions had surpassed 3,000 signatures, and are still counting. The administration had yet to announce specific dates until yesterday, citing the desire to meet with the Student Association (SA).
After the SA Congress meeting on Dec. 1, the selected dates were announced: Wednesday March 17, Thursday April 8 and Tuesday April 20. All three days are positioned during the middle of the week, rather than too close to the weekend, to continue discouraging students from traveling away from the University and to their homes, thereby risking further spread of the virus. It is interesting that two of the dates, March 17 and April 20, are days commonly used for parties and celebrations, among other things, by students, as well as the fact that that April 8 also falls just four days after Easter and the end of Passover.
By adding these days, BU is following the likes of both SUNY Oneonta and Pennsylvania State University, which have also allowed for days off for students to rest throughout the semester. Many schools, like BU, are eliminating the possibility of a spring break, and with snow days no longer an option for last-minute relief, these mental health days are going to be a much needed respite for students across the country.
Given that BU students have already had a massively difficult semester, this is a good first step to improving mental health for students dealing with the stresses of online learning. It is essential that the administration stick to its word and encourage professors and programs on campus to truly treat these dates as they would holidays — no deadlines, classes or even asynchronous assignments due until after the fact.
The University must also do more for students than just provide days off — it must also encourage and promote on-campus wellness resources so that students can access help even when they don’t have the rare day off. Student-run programs like the Mindset Mentors, the Support, Empathy, Empower, Kindness (SEEK) helpline or even more unique short-term programs hosted by the health and wellness studies department could be more widely advertised, or even expanded, so that students are aware of their options right as the semester begins.
It seems that, with massive student encouragement, that the BU administration is starting to follow the ideals set in SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras’ mental health initiative — that despite being disconnected from their usual student routines, the anxiety and stress that comes with online learning cannot be ignored. Three days is a start, a small start considering the pressing student outcry to expand mental health services on campus for years now. The University must keep pushing to expand existing programs, develop new methods to help those struggling and most importantly, it must listen to students, intently. BU can tout increased enrollment, research advancements and construction projects left and right, but if students continue to remain unhappy, they are all short-term solutions to a long-term problem. Unhappy students won’t stick around and then BU will find itself in yet another financial hole.