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It’s been 525 days, from March 16, 2020, to August 23, 2021, since Slippery Rock University announced that they were transitioning to “distance education models” in March 2020 during spring break. SRU has finally returned to campus for the fall 2021 semester on Aug. 23. After the university transitioned to online classes on March 30, 2020, students were forced to adapt to the new, strictly online class format. Since then, there have been no breaks over the course of the last two semesters.
To say we have a fall break this weekend is a bit strange. It almost feels unnatural after the past year without any breaks at all. The last break at SRU was spring break in March 2020, when the world fell apart within a few weeks and college as we know it turned upside down. Along with most things this semester, fall break has a new meaning to it.
As we approach midterms, students are balancing their classwork, group projects, studying for exams, work, extracurriculars, social lives, mental health and maintaining a regular sleep and meal schedule, all while still attempting to remain safe from COVID-19.
One aspect of this return to campus that students and staff seem to forget is how we are all witnessing the evolution of the “new normal.” Everyone is adjusting. Everyone is overwhelmed. Everyone is feeling the same stress. In a way, it’s comforting, but also even more incentive for a break that’s well overdue.
Students learned the hard way that breaks are a necessity to take care of themselves mentally, and we are relieved to finally be given that opportunity. Considering how students haven’t had a break in the semester in over a year, student burnout has become a real issue.
Students are experiencing the in-person college experience either for the first time or for the first time in almost two years. It’s incredibly overwhelming. When SRU was still fully online, there was a certain relief associated with being able to escape the strain classes put on students by just closing the computer and leaning back in the chair. Now, that’s no longer an option, and we just have to keep powering through.
Students are, understandably, counting down the days until fall break. If you look beyond the mask, everyone has exhaustion written on their face. Ever since students were invited back for the fall 2021 semester, the university and professors have jumped right back into the swing of studies, exams, homework, projects and more. Some of this, after listening to the optimism in the professor’s voices, comes solely out of excitement to be back in the classroom and seeing all of us as students be able to work cooperatively together again.
In most classes, professors have implemented two-day absence policies, in which students are only allowed to miss two days before they begin to see their grades deteriorate. There’s an influx of people who show up to class coughing and sneezing because of it. Even if the sicknesses currently going around campus aren’t COVID-related, in this new age of health consciousness, it feels almost wrong that there aren’t more solutions being given so students don’t have to come to class feeling ill.
But those students that are stressed, exhausted or not feeling good don’t really have a choice. They either stay home for that one day before being forced to going back the next, or they suffer through it like the rest of us. We understand why Zoom isn’t being implemented, to encourage students to come to class, so it’s important we find another solution to keep these viruses from spreading.
At the same time, we acknowledge the time, effort and patience that faculty and staff have invested in this semester. Professors are actively working to accommodate those who have contracted COVID-19 and are understanding of those who are having a difficult time adjusting. The Rocket is extremely thankful for the faculty who sanitize and disinfect classrooms and different areas on campus. We’re grateful for your efforts in keeping us safe and keeping the campus clean.
With that said, this break is for more than just the students. Professors and other faculty need a break, too. Along with teaching hundreds of students fully in-person multiple times a day, grading assignments, answering countless emails and sanitizing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they need to balance taking care of themselves mentally and physically. It is important that the health of every member of the SRU community is considered as we head into fall break.
While we “return to normal,” the university has begun to turn its attention to other things, such as new hires, new colleges and finding ways to make up for lost revenue. As students, it’s frustrating to see curriculums turn from student-first-oriented learning to efficiency-based cramming. While it’s understandable to look into the future, we hope that the mental health and fatigue of students and staff isn’t an afterthought in the minds of the administration.
While students are eager to learn in-person again and have a “normal” college experience, a chance to set the pencils down and put the notebooks away will be a great reset. While we fully understood why the university could not grant extended breaks from classes during the heart of the pandemic to help prevent travel and the spread of COVID-19, the lack of time to regroup each semester has impacted the burnout we are all feeling now. This fall break means more than any break before, as it is a break from adapting to this “new normal.”
Fall break is like the halftime of a sports game: We can all take time to sit down, drink some water and prepare for the second half, or in this case, the remaining weeks of the semester. In the coming weekend, we hope that our SRU community can catch their breath and come back with refreshed mindsets. Let’s strive for a safe and healthy break that gives us the encouragement to come back together stronger than ever.