Give Students a Break

Now two and a half weeks into the winter semester, many of you may already be feeling a little stressed, tired, and overworked. For those who had exams on the last possible day of the exam period, your return to university life comes after only 15 days of rest. If you work as well, you had even less time to replenish your intellectual and physical reserves for another 13 weeks of academia. Luckily for you, in only 37 days, you will have 9 days in which to catch up on readings, visit home and rest before gearing up to finish the academic year.

Last semester, though, you didn’t have that to look forward to. By the end of October, you might have been having difficulty (re)adjusting to university life, missing home or struggling with your mental health. Some of you may have considered suicide.

A study by Queen’s University in 2012 found that four per cent of their students had considered suicide during the previous term, and that 10 per cent had considered it at some point. In 2009, four students at Queen’s took their own lives in a period of three months. According to Statistics Canada, suicide is responsible for 20 per cent of deaths for people aged 1-24.

One of the recommendations of the Queen’s report was to add a fall semester reading week, as November was found to be the month with the highest demand for mental health services. In 2013, 11 of Ontario’s 20 publicly funded universities had fall semester reading weeks. In New Brunswick, the Université de Moncton and Mount Allison University have reading weeks in October and November, respectively.

At UNB and STU, though, we only have a single reading day in the fall semester. This needs to change. If UNB wants to compete with other universities, it needs to be competitive in how it cares for its students. Five days off in November might not seem like much, but it’s a necessary step towards keeping students healthy. Those five days allow students to relieve financial strain by taking on extra hours at work, to relieve homesickness by going home, and to achieve academic success by catching up on readings and school work.

The inevitable criticism of this opinion piece, written in the language of the online commenter, will use words like “whiner,” “baby,” and invite me into the “real world,” where one doesn’t ever get a week off. These attacks are part of the reason it’s difficult to speak up about the issue. You’re told to “suck it up,” to “deal with it,” just like those who are legitimately struggling with their mental health are told to on a daily basis. To complain about not having enough time off feels selfish and entitled, not to mention the fact that “reading week” conjures up images of drunken students screaming the words “spring break” on a dirty beach in Florida.

For most students, reading weeks are not about getting drunk and losing their minds. They’re about taking a deep breath and engaging in self-care. They’re about going home, eating a home-cooked meal, travelling, socializing with friends they haven’t seen in weeks, and being both physically and mentally healthy.

A fall semester reading week can’t be put in place overnight. It requires cooperation between faculties, the university administration and students. It may require starting classes a little bit earlier, pushing the winter semester back, and compressing the exam schedule. In the end, though, these changes are worth it, if it means students can be happier, healthier and perform better academically.

Article retrieved from the Brunswickian website. 

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