While university officials did not necessarily “cancel” spring break for the spring 2021 semester, they cancelled the longstanding tradition of students having a weeklong break from school sometime between the end of February and the middle of March. Reflecting on how the spring 2020 semester ended and the current state of the nation with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was seen as a risk to the Virginia Tech community if students had a week off from their academic responsibilities to go out and have a typical Spring Break.
When the decision was announced on Oct. 19 that the Spring 2021 semester was not going to include a traditional weeklong Spring Break period, students were quick to voice their opinions on it. The plan for having five, spread out days off throughout the semester to compensate for the lack of a solid week off received mixed responses from the student body.
“It's a poor decision. Students will still go home if they can, this year's fall break is an example, and this eliminates the break,” said Bryan Bay, a 5th year thesis student here at Virginia Tech studying Architecture. “My professors assign more work over three day weekends. A weeklong break is far better to actually give students a break because it forces professors to actually pause their course work.”
Some students took issue with how the decision affects their personal lives, such as the ability to spend time with family.
“I was extremely disappointed to hear this, especially as a student who lives 9+ hours away. Spring break is my only opportunity to visit home during the spring semester, since it’s a full week,” said Elise Moreau, a Senior at Virginia Tech studying Chemical Engineering. “I can’t simply drive home for a long weekend when it takes all day to do so.”
One point that was raised by a few was the lack of realism to the underlying effort of “cancelling” Spring Break, as the university ultimately cannot stop students from taking their own week off, especially when classes are set to be predominantly virtual this Spring semester.
“I think it was smart, in the sense of not wanting in-person classes (but having hybrid) and not putting a week to make students travel. Those were good for COVID purposes, but students won’t stop [themselves from] traveling home,” said Jillian Krinsky, a Freshman at Virginia Tech studying International Public Policy. “Professors will inevitably be assigning work during these random days—they’ll be spent working.”
Other students took issue with the university’s approach in presenting their decision, arguing that the university’s claim of attempting to, “provide students with downtime and stress relief during the spring semester” was unsound.
“When I first heard the news this morning, I was absolutely furious. I understand that cancelling spring break is meant to discourage travel and the spread of infection, but the university's claim that their new plan will ‘relieve stress’ is simply not true. Frankly, it's unrealistic,” said Meghan Schmidt, a Junior at Virginia Tech studying Communication Science and Social Inquiry. “Professors aren't going to change their course schedules to accommodate these breaks. Since most of these breaks fall in the middle of the week, students will spend their day studying and completing their work as they normally would. If anything, it's going to increase students' workloads and stress levels.”
The interests of students were also raised, as some raised the point that academia is only one facet of a typical college student’s life. Concerns regarding students being overworked were raised as it became apparent that a modified, somewhat sporadic alternative to a spring break was not desirable to most students interviewed.
“What about students that have jobs? Students with all asynchronous classes? Most importantly, students who want a break?” Krinsky said. “It’s crucial to our mental health, and college with covid is already so frustrating and stressful.”
While many of the responses displayed disappointment in the decision, some found that it was an appropriate measure, given the risks associated with travel and the wellbeing of the greater Blacksburg community.
“It's a good decision, because it's better than the alternative of scrapping spring break, and in this way we still get time off,” said Kyle Misencik, a Senior at Virginia Tech studying Architecture. “It's important to minimize travel and this is a good compromise to still allow students to get time off while discouraging traveling. A lot of the people outraged are not seeing the bigger picture and how it's important to keep our community safe, more importantly than spring break.”
Beyond the backlash regarding Spring Break, students were largely receptive to the plans outlined for keeping the Virginia Tech community safe when classes start next semester. While many lacked enthusiasm in having a modified break schedule, the majority of students interviewed found there to be a greater good in the university’s planning efforts.
“Aside from their changes to spring break, I'm content with the university's plans for spring semester. I think they're doing the best they can given the situation,” said Schmidt. “I think that making a gradual shift towards in-person classes instead of remaining mostly online is better in the long-term. I also appreciate that they're mandating on-campus students to test upon arrival in January.”