Notre Dame students react to their first “mini-break”
It’s no secret that last semester’s class schedule left many students feeling overwhelmed. According to a September 2020 Student Mental Health Survey, nearly three quarters of Notre Dame students “reported their mental health [had] worsened, worsened somewhat, or worsened significantly since the beginning of the pandemic,” with many students also reporting feelings of anxiety, isolation, stress, and sadness.
When the results of the survey were released in the fall, professors responded with accommodations: some even amended final exams, restructured syllabi, and cancelled assignments. It was clear that students were struggling, and many people wondered whether the lack of a mid-semester break might have contributed to this downturn in student mental health.
Perhaps in an attempt to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety experienced by students last semester, the university added three “mini-breaks” to the spring schedule, the first of which took place on Tuesday, March 2. All classes and meetings which would have been scheduled for the 2nd were cancelled. The administration presumably chose not to schedule the break on a Monday to discourage students from taking the opportunity to travel home.
Ostensibly, students could take the whole day to relax and recuperate from the first third of the semester or take part in a fun activity somewhere near campus. Many did; for example, all of the spots for students to sign up for ice skating at Howard Park were filled for Tuesday. Others, like junior Olivia Burke, took the opportunity to interact with the South Bend community.
Burke recounted a trip to the farmer’s market, which she described as a “good downtown South Bend experience,” and added that she was able to immerse herself in the community by patronizing local shops. Like many of her classmates, Burke spent time enjoying the uncharacteristically pleasant weather, going for a hike after a late breakfast at The General Deli & Cafe (also in South Bend).
Overall, Burke said that she “enjoyed [the break] more than [she] thought [she would].” Even so, she joined a chorus of critical voices by saying that she wished that the day off had been on Monday. If that had been the case, Burke explained, she would have had a “great, relaxing weekend” because she would have been able to push her work back to Monday. Instead, she was forced to do work on Sunday and on Tuesday, since her Monday/Wednesday professors neglected to extend deadlines to Friday.
Hannah Cunniff, another Notre Dame junior, agreed with Burke’s assessment of the “mini-break,” saying that she “would have appreciated a long weekend” as opposed to the Tuesday break. That way, she explained, “it would have been like having two Saturdays instead of two Sundays.” Cunniff added that, although the day may have seemed notable because she was able to “sleep in,” her break ended up feeling like “just an average day.”
Other students viewed March 2 in a similar light. When asked to describe her “mini-break,” junior Milly Ladner mentioned that she worked out and had lunch at the dining hall but that, despite not having class, the day was nothing special. Another junior, Ben Fitzgerald, seemed to have used at least part of the day to run errands: he “went to the mechanic and picked up [his] car” after having his tires changed. And Claire Wilson, junior president of Lewis Hall, took a trip to the pharmacy on Tuesday afternoon, picking up some plastic cups and mini Cadbury eggs.
Despite trying to celebrate their breaks in small ways—Wilson, for instance, ordered dinner from Rohr’s, and Burke traveled to Dairy Queen to order the chain’s “blizzard of the month”—the general consensus with regard to the break seems mixed at best. Although recognizing what they saw as the university’s genuine attempt to provide students with a respite from the stress of classes, many wondered about the effectiveness of the endeavour. Burke summarized these misgivings well: “they gave us a day off of school,” she said, “but not a day off of work or a day off of stress.”
This semester’s second “mini-break” will take place on April 21.
Nia is a junior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies with minors in history and journalism, ethics and democracy. She loves running, cooking and watching the New York Giants lose every Sunday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org