Last year, the college extended the ongoing spring break when COVID became a pandemic and the entire country shut down for quarantine. This year, many colleges in the U.S. had no spring break at all. At Swarthmore, this year’s spring break was less than a week, spanning from Wednesday, March 24, to Sunday, March 28. The break from classes allowed students, already halfway through the semester, the opportunity to take a step back from schoolwork for a few days. For all Swatties, it was a break different from any other.
Initially, spring break this year was not a part of the semester calendar. Winter break originally lasted until Feb. 14, and there would have been no spring break at all. The college made the change after students objected to the lack of spring break during the BAC strike last semester because a semester without break would be detrimental to student mental health. An email on November 25, 2020, from Sarah Willie-LeBreton, provost and dean of the faculty, and Jim Terhune, vice president for student affairs, announced the break, which was made possible by shortening winter break by one week.
Students on campus were required to stay on campus throughout the duration of the break out of COVID safety precautions. The OSE organized a calendar of events for students to stay busy during the staycation.
Andrew Barclay, director of student activities in Swarthmore’s Office of Student Engagement, said that planning for in-person and virtual spring break activities began very early in the semester. He started planning the spring break staycation immediately after winter break with Katie Clark, assistant dean of integrated learning and leadership director at the Center for Innovation and Leadership, Max Miller, assistant athletic director for Recreation, Wellness, & Physical Education, and Carl Sveen, assistant director at the Center for Innovation and Leadership.
“We started by brainstorming and putting some structure around the event types that we wanted to see during Spring Break,” Barclay wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “From there we opened signups up to all staff and faculty on campus and accepted program submissions through mid-March.”
In his email, Barclay said that the events were organized because the OSE wanted students to have plenty to do over break, especially because of the restriction on travelling. Events ranged from practical lessons like sewing to social activities such as decorating the Campus & Community Store window for spring to events like meditation, aimed at health and wellness.
According to Barclay, many events that required registration filled up quickly, though some open events that did not require registration had fewer attendees than he expected.
“… The Zoom events had lower attendance than the in-person events but were open to a larger audience … I expected attendance to be high, but some open events had fewer attendees than I expected. Still, I was amazed at how quickly our ‘registration required’ events filled up,” he said.
Though there were no attendance figures on the open events, Barclay told The Phoenix that 414 students total signed up for the events that did require registration.
Barclay said that the in-person events were more successful than the Zoom events offered and that the social events, such as tree planting, had more attendees than practical ones such as “How to Tie a Bowtie.” He was most excited for the tree planting event, which he credited as the most successful of all of the spring break activities.
“I would like to highlight the work of PSRF [President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship] Fellow Chelsea Semper [’21], who organized an amazing tree planting event in collaboration with Grounds and the Arboretum. This event got students outside, helped them learn about the Crum Woods, and they planted 300 trees! It was fun, educational, and improved our campus,” Barclay wrote.
Shaurya Bhaskar ’22, a student living on campus, told The Phoenix in an interview about his experiences over spring break and the OSE events he attended.
“I went to the silent disco party, which was great, [and] we should do more of it. Even when COVID ends, like you can have multiple people in a room, give them silent headphones, and just have a good time. I also went to some of the cookouts that happened, they were a lot of fun. And I also played some games that were outside on Parrish Beach.”
Catherine Atalig ’23 wasn’t as excited about the OSE events, especially after her experience attending one.
“I kind of expected a little bit more from OSE, to be honest, but I think they did with what they could. And plus the rain kind of ruined a lot of [the events] … [but] I got to make it to a few.”
One event had logistical problems unrelated to weather.
“One of the ones that I did make it to was a food truck event, which was a whole mess. They didn’t have nearly enough food for the amount of people that showed up so it just ended up being … like a two-hour-plus wait for tacos … I think Andrew Barclay was realizing that the food trucks were going to run out of food so midway through they just ordered a bunch of pizzas, and just gave it out to everyone,” Atalig said.
Though students off campus were aware of the OSE events, most attended few, if any, including Spencer Watts ’24.
“I was aware of the on-campus events and saw a few emails about online jeopardy or trivia but didn’t attend,” she told The Phoenix.
Jenna Takach ’24 spent her break off-campus doing things around her home in Texas. Though she was aware that events were scheduled throughout the week, she decided she’d rather spend time with her family than spend more time on Zoom.
Takach did attend one event: an Alumni Council conversation hosted by Natalie Flores, a 2019 Swarthmore alum who presented on working life right out of college.
“I stayed for about 40 minutes, and we talked about some advice for transitioning to working after graduation, as well as how certain experiences on campus help prepare us for similar experiences in the real world. I really enjoyed talking to Natalie and everyone else who attended; it was a really good way to connect with people while we weren’t all preoccupied with schoolwork,” she told The Phoenix.
Ayleah Johnson ’22 wanted to attend an alumni talk, but it was earlier in the day than she hoped, so she reached out to the alum instead.
“So the one they had … Friday at 9 a.m., I wanted to go to that, but instead I just reached out to the alum herself … I love the alumni talk thing, I think that was a good idea,” she told The Phoenix.
Johnson also said that she originally planned to attend events such as the Sex Toy Quizzo hosted by the Sexual Health Advisors, but ended up not going.
“That [event] was always such a big thing on campus so I was interested to see how it would convert over to online. I think it would probably have been very fun.”
During break, all of the students interviewed by The Phoenix said that they spent time relaxing and doing their best to avoid schoolwork, and most professors were accommodating in that regard with the exception of assigning homework due afterward.
Bhaskar was happy that he could finally spend time with other students without the pressures of schoolwork.
“Because of COVID, you have to sort of go out of your way to take a break with your friends. I think spring break just makes that super easy, because if everyone’s on break, everyone’s not supposed to have work, so if you ask a friend to hang out, they’ll probably say yes. So I’m a big fan of the spring break,” he said.
Takach similarly said that it was nice to have a chance to focus on things besides schoolwork, though she would have preferred a full week of break.
“It was super nice to have time in the middle of the semester to recharge and make up for lost sleep, and a break from being on Zoom for hours each day allowed me to focus on other things in my life that I had been neglecting,” she said. “Honestly, I would have preferred a full week of spring break, but I understand that we were already on a shortened semester, and the college wanted to prevent on-campus students from leaving for too long and potentially bringing COVID back to campus.”
According to Barclay, students appreciated the chance to recharge. When he spoke with students, he said that they appreciated the staycation activities, and that he was blown away by the willingness of the staff to help create activities for students to participate in and enjoy.
“I truly hope that our efforts were beneficial to students, and hope everyone had a chance to unplug – even if it was just for a few hours,” he said.