by Marcia Hunt
Purchase College ditched a week-long spring break for spring 2021 and instead opted for three non-consecutive “wellness” days.
According to Purchase College Provost Barry Pearson, the decision to restrict Purchase’s spring break to three non-consecutive days off was made to prevent high amounts of COVID cases on campus.
Pearson, who also chairs the Continuation of Programs and Services (CPS) task force, said, “CPS felt then, and continues to feel today, that the decision was in the best overall interest of the campus.”
What followed this decision insisted it was the right call. Just weeks after the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, Miami’s popular beaches were flooded with spring breakers. The chaos and threat of “superspreading” the virus caused some beaches to implement curfews and restrictions.
As of April 12, Purchase has reported a total of 47 coronavirus cases and had one employee fatality, according to the SUNY COVID-19 Tracker. SUNY-wide, there have been 15,369 total reported COVID cases and 1,058 active cases including 19 positive cases at Purchase, 14 cases at Westchester Community College, 10 cases at Old Westbury, and 54 cases at New Paltz.
While CPS had campus safety in mind when making their spring break plans, many students have felt that the administration disregarded the realities of virtual learning and the effects it has had on students’ mental health.
Brianna Bryan-Kerr, a sophomore journalism major, was in disbelief when Purchase came out with their spring break plan.
“I kept staring at the information on my screen trying to figure out whether or not this was a joke,” Bryan-Kerr said. “The confusion quickly turned to disappointment and anger. I was looking forward to a week off because I’m burnt out from working and schooling from home.”
Bryan-Kerr, who does both her Purchase classes and her work as a Microsoft Team member virtually, believes that the three non-consecutive days off don’t benefit her at all.
“The three days are definitely not a break for me,” she said. “They’re just three random days off that’ll get pushed aside in the back of my head and forgotten about until it comes closer in date. Every day of the week I'm on my laptop. I rarely get a break because as soon as I’m finished with a class, I have to work or do homework.”
The pressures of virtual learning have caused junior history major Alex Belyaninov to assume part-time student status as he studies from home. Even with a lighter course load, Belyaninov continues to struggle with maintaining his mental well-being under the pressures of school, work and living through the pandemic.
“Virtual learning isn’t something the school system was designed for,” Belyaninov said. “When you combine that with the fact that the human psyche wasn’t designed to endure the stress we’ve had for over a year because of the unprecedented pandemic, we need as much of a break as we can get. I was hoping that we’d have a week off given the circumstances.”
According to Pearson, however, a week-long spring break was not an option CPS could consider.
“Our remote courses started Feb. 1 and then our in-person courses started Feb. 8,” said Pearson. “These later than usual start dates, while necessary, made a full week off difficult in a shortened semester, and one that could be interrupted due to COVID.
“Under current New York State travel guidelines, if students were to travel out-of-state beyond our border states, they would have to quarantine once they return,” he continued. “So, you could have students, faculty and staff go away during a week-long break, but they would then have to quarantine at least another week before returning to in-person classes.”
Once CPS settled on having a non-consecutive spring break, they decided to spread out the break based on the school’s course schedule, so that it didn't burden some courses more than others.
Fiona Feltman, a senior arts management major, doesn’t believe the way the break has been set out is beneficial to students or their professors.
“When I’m talking to professors, they tell me ‘I need a break,’ and that’s true,” said Feltman, a learning assistant for the course Finance for the Arts. “The professors need time to create their lessons. For some professors, they have to create the slideshows and then add a voiceover, make more detailed slides, or create VoiceThreads [to adapt to virtual learning]. That’s really tedious.”
Feltman believes that if professors are more accommodating to students, the non-consecutive days wouldn’t be so bad. But with all the variables of students’ lives, she believes that in reality, the break is impractical.
“The school is encouraging us to use our ‘wellness days’ to do yoga and go outside, but we’re all doing homework,” she said. “Professors are giving us more work being virtual to try to make up for what we’re not able to learn in class plus what we would have for homework. It’s hard to tell the difference between homework and classwork because they’re being done in the same place.”
While this semester’s spring break was less than ideal for Purchase’s student body, Pearson continues to encourage that professors and students alike use these days to take a break.
“We really mean for there to be no structured activities,” said Pearson. “We know students will want to use these days to catch up, but we’re encouraging students to have fun and take a break.”
As more vaccines are being administered and COVID restrictions are lessening, the Purchase community, both in-person and virtual, are desperate for things to return to some semblance of normalcy after such an unconventional several semesters.
“I hope that Purchase will go back to something that resembles life before the pandemic,” said Belyaninov. “I’ve been vaccinated. I’ll keep wearing my mask. I just wanted some kind of in-person interaction.”