Following the elimination of spring and fall breaks for the 2020-21 school year and a planned elimination of fall break in 2021, IU students are expressing difficulty balancing their mental health with online learning and the stress of the pandemic after what would’ve been spring break.
IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said the decision to cut breaks was made by IU's Medical Response Team and leadership to discourage nonessential travel. Carney said traveling is one of the biggest transmitters of COVID-19.
"One of the ways that we could help keep ourselves most safe and ensure that we could have an uninterrupted semester is that we keep everyone here as long as we could," Carney said.
But while cutting spring break may lower public safety risks, IU students say the decision has put their mental health at risk.
Senior Erin Barrett said she was looking forward to her final spring break as a college student. The break gives students the motivation to finish out the year, she said.
"It’s like the perfect reset between the last semester, that middle ground," Barrett said. "You’re about to finish up everything, the weather’s getting nicer, it’s like a push."
Barrett said she would have used the break to visit family and friends and catch up on classwork. She said she thinks IU could have offered a better alternative, such as a week without in-person classes, since people would likely travel anyway. This would help, she said, because even going to her one in-person class has become stressful.
IU has implemented three “wellness days" spread out across the semester. While Carney said these were not meant to be a replacement for spring break, they were intended to give students the chance to relax or catch up on classes they may have fallen behind in.
But Barrett said the wellness days don't offer much respite from a 16-week-long semester.
"When the wellness day is a random Wednesday in the middle of March, I don't think it'll do anything for anyone," Barrett said.
IU Student Government leaders have also voiced concerns about the lack of a break. Junior Carling Louden, a candidate for student body vice president, recently created an online petition that garnered over 10,000 signatures in two days. The petition pushes for the reinstatement of spring and fall breaks for the 2021-22 school year, and is a direct response to IU's announcement that while campus will be returning to mostly in-person operations in the fall, a fall break will still not be offered.
Louden said the petition is representative of the feelings of many students.
"I received so many emails in support of the petition and so many responses," Louden said. "People are reaching out through social media and email saying they completely agree."
Louden said IUSG members are meeting this week to discuss how they will take action based on the results of the petition. Carney said he expects spring break to be back next year.
Chris Meno associate director for Counseling and Psychological Services at IU, said she's seen motivation and concentration decrease among students, and they're experiencing loneliness and isolation.
Barrett said she's experienced loneliness due to living alone and only seeing others over Zoom. She said she often feels like she's talking to herself.
She's not alone — IU students told the Indiana Daily Student earlier this month about the issues the pandemic has brought them, including nightmares, grief and trouble making friends.
"I know it’s not advised to be traveling or moving around or whatever, but this is the hardest time in some peoples’ life right now, and school on top of that is not easy," Barrett said.