When she initially discovered that Morgan State University was implementing wellness days, Zion Thornton, a junior and elementary education major, liked the idea. However, over time her feelings changed.
“The idea of a wellness day on paper sounded amazing,” Thornton said. “I was like ‘oh my goodness yes!’ Prioritizing mental health, we need this.”
But for her, it grew increasingly difficult to manage her mental health when she was receiving assignments due on the designated rest days.
“As the semester began to progress, I started to realize the wellness days were not replacing the spring break at all and that my success this semester was going to be based completely off my own time management because there was no break in place to help me,” Thornton said.
Morgan wasn’t the only one.
Universities across the country—including Notre Dame of Maryland University, Harvard University and the University of South Carolina—hopped on the wellness day bandwagon, deviating from the typical week-long break of instruction, and opting for five instruction-free days spread throughout March and April. But other universities like Towson University, University of Maryland College Park and Loyola University in Maryland kept a regular Spring Break on their calendars.
The reading and wellness days were intended for students to “rejuvenate, relax, and rest,” according to a university statement from the beginning of the semester. Beginning on March 1, students and faculty were exempt from online instruction once a week until the last official wellness day on Friday, April 9. The week of March 14 was excluded due to midterms.
Provost Lesia Crumpton-Young said the wellness days were necessary for the academic calendar to stay intact and to curb COVID-19 cases, especially after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested canceling spring break to keep college students from traveling during the pandemic. But although they’ve been implemented as an alternative, Crumpton-Young admitted that wellness days are not “as good” as spring break.
“Everybody is accustomed to having a spring break for a week and they are accustomed to being able to travel,” Crumpton-Young said. “I do think it is a way for students to get a break in a busy semester.”
Students across multiple majors began expressing concerns about the new initiative. Crumpton-Young added that one of the unanticipated challenged was the considerable adjustment period for teachers, which led to the assignment of homework and other projects on what were supposed to be rest days for students and teachers.
“I think at first there was a little bit of confusion,” Crumpton-Young said. “We had to remind professors that it’s a wellness day for faculty as well and they’re not to have classes or give assignments to students.”
Lecturer Amanda Dotson appreciated the random days off as a professor because she didn’t have to log in to Zoom and teach, but wasn’t fully sold on the concept of wellness days because it messed with her lecturing schedule for weeks.
“[Students] don’t have enough time over one wellness day to really get the stuff done that they need to,” Dotson said. “I think with students it’s been a bit more disruptive than helpful.”
When wellness days initially launched, Dotson admitted unknowingly assigning work, but after being reminded that students should be completely free of work, she rescheduled her lessons around the off days.
For Jaime Esters, a senior and social work major, wellness days simply didn’t give students the opportunity to take a real break. She didn’t believed administrators had college students in mind when they decided to implement wellness days over spring break.
“From the outside looking in, I just think it should have been clearer to faculty from administration,” Esters said. “I think they had in mind a full-fledged adult working a 9-5 like ‘oh that would be nice to give them one day off.’”
Similar to Thornton, Esters said the only benefit of wellness days was not having to log into Zoom for the day.
“Wellness days are like ‘this is the day I catch up on my assignments,’ so I’ve noticed I’ve never really had a spring break this semester,” Thornton said. “It almost reminds me of a half-day in high school.”