Ah, spring break.
The highlight of the semester; a week filled with endless days, maybe a trip to warm places with my closest friends, alcohol if you are so inclined, and the absence of classes. A week for me to kick back and sit on my couch and allow myself to watch all the television I want.
I did not take a trip anywhere, but I definitely sat on my couch. I sat on my couch and watched a dozen Snapchats of my friends having a banging spring break. Wearing sweatpants with unwashed hair, while eating a loaf of bread, I tried really hard to imagine what it would be like to a) be in the best shape of my life, b) be sitting on the beach, feeling the warmth of the sun after this brutal winter and c) actually relax.
Because instead of spending my break in a mind-numbingly calm state, I stress-ate copious slices of toast as I thought about the lab report and two exams due this week.
And I am definitely not alone.
It is well-understood that a majority of Stony Brook students spend their spring breaks studying and stressing just as much as they do while school is in session. Why? Because students in CHE 132 are gearing up for their second midterm Monday night, the first day after spring break. Students in BIO 362 have an exam on Thursday, March 26. I have an unfortunate friend who has a midterm every week until finals.
And it is not just these big classes that schedule exams for immediately after returning from break. There are even professors who have specially assigned homework for spring break. My roommate is in an art class this semester and she was expected, by her professor, to show up every day during spring break and work on the assignment. Is it wrong of me to think that all of this is a little ridiculous?
A “break” is literally defined as “a pause in work.” The only thing I “paused” from this week was being physically present in my classes. The daily stress that I face while I am in school was still lingering around me like a dark cloud while I cuddled with my mom and watched Grey’s. I could not even properly binge-watch Netflix because I still felt guilty over choosing “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” over my lab report (which is still not done, by the way).
This is spring break. I am not mad that I didn’t go anywhere. I’m mad that I couldn’t sit at home and do nothing with peace-of-mind. I’m mad because I have one week off to pull myself together from whatever disaster this semester has inadvertently become, cry out my feelings, experience a moment of happiness and then settle back into the routine of school.
But I did not get my week because that dark cloud never left that spot in the back of my mind. It followed me every time I got Chipotle with a friend, played video games with my brother and ate dinner with my parents. I knew that come Monday, I had exams and lab reports and everything else in the world to take care of. I spent the week I was supposed to unwind reeling myself back up to face the challenge of the rest of the semester.
Am I complaining? Maybe. I could have done my work before the break started. I could have spent half of it being responsible so the other half would have been a great time. But it does not detract from the point that there is still an inherent stress. At a university that is already filled with over-worked students packing their schedules mile-high with intense upper-division credits, these breaks are crucial to our overall well-being. We’re not MIT here, with once-a- month mandated three-day weekends. This break is all we have for the spring semester until finals are over.
Breaks are important. We are not a laid-back student body. We are a student body that challenges ourselves academically, does research and works to pay loans. We are a student body that pushes ourselves to go beyond academics to run clubs, host meetings and organize campus-wide events. We are a resilient student body, but we need breaks for our own mental health. Being over-stressed, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, and tired is not how we are going to get through this semester. It is NOT the road map to success on any level.
What I am asking here is for professors to lay back. These midterms are planned so far in advance that scheduling them for the week after spring break is a low blow. Assign homework and projects to be due a little longer after returning from break, not the week after. Let us have our fun and maybe we would not look so miserable in your classes on Monday. Give us the time to really know what it feels like to not worry about our next midterm, oral presentation, or essay. Give us the time to relax.
Give us a real spring break.