Time Zones And Zoom Fatigue: Why The Claremont Colleges Should Give Students Their Spring Break Back

The recent announcement of the Spring 2021 Academic Calendar has left many students feeling unheard, in despair, and worried for the semester ahead. Most notably, the calendar has eliminated the normal weeklong spring break, replacing it with three one-day breaks spread throughout the semester.  This calendar would be bad enough for students living in the same time zone as their professors; for those who aren’t, or have other stressors placed on them, it’s unbearable. Students haven’t failed to make this clear; after the spring break decision was announced, students at the Claremont Colleges have voiced disapproval through an array of emails, social media posts, and a petition calling for the colleges to add a spring break to the calendar again. Student outcry is largely a result of their exclusion from the planning process. The choice to eliminate spring break was made with almost no student input, and fails to take students’ mental health, zoom fatigue, and diverse living situations into account.

This isn’t the first time the colleges have made controversial planning decisions without student input. Administrators planned the Fall 2020 Academic Calendar without student consultation, albeit with the possibility of an in-person semester. The result was a twelve- rather than sixteen-week semester, including one Saturday makeup class, and almost no days off for the entire semester. The goal of reducing the number of breaks is to minimize the potential for students to spread COVID-19 during travels off campus. However, under Los Angeles County restrictions, none of the Claremont Colleges were able to bring students back to campus in the fall, rendering administrators’ concerns in this regard moot. Students of the 5Cs had to endure twelve consecutive weeks of online schooling, with an additional Saturday make-up class for the shortened semester, without a break. While the administration’s calendar allowed students to retain their Thanksgiving Break for the week of November 23rd, the time will probably end up as proxy reading days for finals week which is to commence on November 30th for most students, an exhaustingly tedious run for students.

With the end of the semester on December 4th, the next semester is to resume on January 25th after a seven-week break. During this period, most students will be waiting with bated breath for the decision on whether they spend another four months at home on Zoom or find some semblance of normalcy on campus. Either way, the Spring semester’s catastrophic calendar looms over us. Despite numerous surveys, petitions, and consultations with school administrators, the 5Cs failed to listen and uphold a five-day break. 5C administrators have developed separate plans for robust semesters either in person or online, so why not create two separate calendars? If any of the 5Cs ended up in person, we could all follow the shorter calendar in order to discourage travel. However, if we ended up doing another semester of Zoom classes, then we would revert back to a normal-length semester with a consecutive five-day Spring Break. This plan is only fair to the students and professors who toil away hoping to create an effective online learning environment without damaging their own mental and emotional well being.

The one calendar for all, regardless of in-person or online plan, does not make sense and will not achieve its intended purpose of giving students quality rest. First, the current plan depends entirely on which days are chosen as “rest days.” Most students already do not have Friday classes, so Fridays off would equate to the same calendar overall. Second, while most professors genuinely respect our time and would like us to get decent rest during the weekends, one Friday or Monday appended to a weekend essentially encourages some to assign more work, make deadlines shorter, or condense material in order to fit it into the shortened semester. Third, administrators should understand that Zoom classes are more demanding for professors and students and therefore require more—not fewer—breaks overall. As evidenced by this semester, many of my own professors have had to cut material out of the syllabus due to time constraints or condensed dense material into shorter class periods. These adjustments led to less knowledge retention and more physical and mental strain. 

The colleges have also failed to consider the calendar’s effect on international students. Many students have to deal with international time zones, myself included. Students from Australia, Europe, East Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands are all dealing with time differences that result in extremely taxing schedules. For example, my daily routine is to start my 9am (PT) classes at 2am (CHST) and end my day, on days when I have lab, at 9pm (PT) which is 2pm (CHST). I have to balance missing out on sleep, isolating myself from other members of my family, and on most days keeping my doors locked at odd hours to take exams, Zoom in for work, and attend club meetings. Three days interspersed within the semester is quite frankly inhumane for the 15-20% of our student body who are taking classes in international time zones. 

If our schools care about our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, they should be giving us ample time off in order to take brain breaks and rest our eyes from the 4-8 hours of consecutive Zoom time. Class, group projects with members from different time zones, work, research projects, and homework are all taking place online, and students desperately need time to take their eyes off the screen. It’s not an unreasonable request to make of our administrators, as they have admitted that this semester has placed unique stresses on students and faculty alike. We ask for empathetic and compassionate minds and hearts in order to determine a feasible, humane solution as to the conundrum of Spring 2021’s Academic Calendar. 

 

Image credit: On Call International

Htet Wai Yan contributed reporting.

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