Fall break does not actually give students a break

It is difficult to argue the fact that Swarthmore is an academically rigorous institution. We pride ourselves on this rigor in admissions pamphlets, in the mouths of our tour guides, and in the furious matches of misery poker played late at night in Essie Mae’s. Strategically placed at the halfway point of the semester, many students look forward to fall break as a blessed respite from the endless barrage of academic and extracurricular work that comes their way. However, it appears that faculty members are, in increasing number and volume, increasingly assigning work due during break. While there is no official college policy prohibiting faculty from making students turn in work over break, we at the Phoenix believe that this practice is detrimental to the mental health of the student body and contradicts the very idea of having such a break in the first place.

For many Swarthmore students, the absence of class time during fall break is immediately replaced by a host of other obligations. The varsity women’s volleyball team is required to stay on-campus during break, and their days are filled up with extra practice time. Other coaches have historically scheduled the farthest away games of the season over fall break, in order to minimize the academic cost of requiring students to travel long hours. Even students who are not varsity athletes find their fall breaks vanishing right before their eyes. Some express a desire to catch up on the readings they failed to find time for, or to start on the homework that has been assigned for the week directly following the break. This culturally reinforced notion that fall break is a time to play catch-up, rather than an actual break from the demands of  life at Swarthmore, does nothing but add to the large amounts of stress students face by this point in the semester, and we at the Phoenix believe that the Dean’s Office and the faculty should work against these common expectations and promote fall break as an opportunity for students to improve their overall well-ness.

Even more egregious than the general campus culture regarding fall break, the Phoenix believes that faculty members who choose to assign work due over fall break are actively working against students’ wellness. This increase in assignments due over the break is related to the rise of Moodle as an electronic submission platform for papers, problem sets, and other assessments. It is simply unfair for certain faculty members to take an “If we can, we will” approach in the context of assigning due dates for major projects. This is not to say that fall break is a time where students should not be doing any academically-related work at all, but that the increasing number of students whose workload doubles or triples over the break is unethical and is a practice that needs to be reevaluated.

In light of the extremely stress-inducing events that transpired in the week before fall break this year, it is disappointing to see that Swarthmore students have become busier than ever during a time that is designed to be a brief respite from the rigorous academic and extracurricular workloads that abound. We at the Phoenix believe that the Dean’s Office and faculty members have an obligation to preserve this weeklong period as a time to alleviate stress, not compound it, and something must be done to reverse the trend seen in recent years.


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