GV adds two ‘Break Days’ to winter semester


GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Zsolt Palmer

This winter at Grand Valley State University, students are being faced with a nearly non-stop semester, with the notable exception of two single days off on March 10 and April 1. These ‘mini-breaks’ were added to the semester to give students a mental health break from their studies and were not originally planned to be a part of the schedule.

Originally, the winter semester was to consist of fifteen consecutive weeks of academics. COVID-19 concerns had caused spring break to be canceled, with university administration moving that week of vacation to the end of winter break, and leaving the winter semester without any breaks at all.

These plans were changed after a November recommendation from Student Senate asked to include two break days in the semester.

“Members of the Student Senate, including President Kelly Dowker, sit on the Faculty Senate and have a direct line of communication to the Provost,” said Ed Aboufadel, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs. “The Student Senate’s Nov. 11 memo to the Provost and the chair of the Faculty Senate ignited the conversation to create the two break days.”

But even once it was decided that these break days would be added, there was still the matter of where to put them, which had to be done with the pandemic in mind. The decision to choose April 1 and March 10 was done to lower the risk of bringing COVID-19 back onto campus as much as possible.

“One of the rationales for starting the semester a week later and eliminating spring break was to discourage two activities that can accelerate the spread of COVID: extensive travel leading to large gatherings,” Aboufadel said. “So, the break days were chosen to be mid-week rather than on a Monday or Friday. We settled on a Wednesday and a Thursday. Thursday was chosen rather than a Tuesday, because there are fewer 3-hour graduate courses on Thursdays. March 10 was chosen to be after midterms exams and April 1 was about halfway between March 10 and the end of the semester.”

The addition of the break days was generally welcome for the campus, particularly considering the alternative of fifteen unbroken weeks of academics.

“I’ll take two days of break over nothing, but I’ll still miss spring break,’ said Second-Year Student Katie Peterson.

“To be honest, I’m glad they added those breaks in the middle of the week,” said Second-Year Student Dustin Danckeart. “Having them next to a weekend could make people want to go home, or travel, and bring the virus back to campus. A rise in cases could potentially cause us to go into a quarantine again, and I don’t think any of us want that.” 

The reaction from faculty was a little more lukewarm, raising concerns about scheduling for classes and labs.

“Anyone with only Monday, Tuesday or Friday classes — which is quite possible with all of the staggered courses — does not benefit from these breaks,” said Richard Lord, associate professor of chemistry. “It’s a nice gesture, but feels more symbolic than useful.”

Others understood the concerns, but focused more on the respite that the days off provide students than their clunky application in the classroom.

“I think that a break in the middle of the semester is always necessary,” said biology professor Bruce Ostrow. “I understand that the GVSU administration canceled spring break this semester to discourage people from traveling during the pandemic. In my opinion, it would have been better to have those two days be consecutive, and thus provide a short but real mid-semester break. But having two consecutive break days does open the risk of people traveling. Still, these two non-consecutive break days will be appreciated when they arrive, even though it caused some difficulties for us, and negatively impacts multi-section laboratory courses such as BIO 376 Genetics Laboratory.”

Nonetheless, the university is confident that this schedule will help the mental wellness of students and keep virus numbers under control. 

“It is important for students, as well as faculty and staff, to have times when they are not focused on work or study, and they can relax.,” Aboufadel said. “This is good for mental and physical health. Beyond the break days, I encourage all to make time on weekends to relax.”