Op-ed: Eliminating spring break will be detrimental to mental health


Illustration by Madison Boudreau Popovic

Northeastern has extended winter holiday by one week and canceled Spring Break.

Mia Merchant, contributor

When Northeastern’s administration sent out an email Oct. 6 announcing their decision to extend winter break by one week and cancel spring break, my first thought was that they’re just being cautious. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; doing everything they can to keep cases low has enabled them to keep campus open. Then, the realization hit — “Wait, they’re getting rid of spring break?”

I know I’m not the only one who begins their countdown to spring break three days after the start of the second semester. I was looking forward to bringing my friends from home to Boston and showing them around, seeing my family and taking a short vacation. Mental breaks are vital, and I’m definitely not looking forward to three and a half months of nonstop schoolwork. 

Although Northeastern instead added an extra week of winter vacation, spring break can’t be replaced. The schedule change will make it even harder to return to online classes after being away from school for a longer period of time. Spring break creates a divide in the semester, allowing students to regroup before finals. No matter how interesting your classes are, how much you love your Northeastern friends or how great it is to live in Boston, we’re all going to suffer some degree of burnout without a much-needed break in the middle of the spring semester. 

In normal times, everyday school stressors can cause significant health problems if they build up over time. During COVID-19, it’s even harder to focus in online classes, especially when combined with the stress and anxiety that can come with the pandemic. I personally tend to lose focus around late February, and with only summer to look forward to as a break, I can already see my motivation to attend endless Zoom classes going down the drain. 

While we might not be able to take tropical vacations this year, a physical and mental break from the university in the middle of the spring semester is highly beneficial. Taking vacations throughout the year can reduce stress, increase general happiness and even boost the immune system. Research also supports that spring break increases focus, productivity and creativity upon return. 

However, I get it. Northeastern administration wants to make sure everyone is safe, and keeping everyone on campus prevents travel and further community spread. Canceling spring break is a sure-fire way to eliminate all the partying, binge-drinking and general risky behavior associated with spring break, which will keep COVID-19 cases low and keep everyone safe.

What I have a problem with is the lack of consistency in their decision. If we’re able to return to campus for three weeks after Thanksgiving, shouldn’t we be allowed to leave during spring break and return afterwards for another two months? 

My plan was always to fly home the Friday before Thanksgiving and not return to Boston till the start of the second semester. It didn’t make much sense for me to come back to campus for the final few weeks after Thanksgiving before winter break. If they chose to send us home after Thanksgiving and got rid of spring break, I would have grudgingly accepted their decision. I would also have accepted — though much more willingly — the university letting us come back after Thanksgiving and spring break. It’s possible that they’re banking on students to keep themselves home after Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t make up for the inconsistencies. 

Unfortunately, it seems like Northeastern followed other colleges who also made the decision to cancel spring break, such as Boston University and several schools in the midwest, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kansas State University and Purdue University. Some of our neighbors, however, have replaced a week long break with a shorter vacation: for example, Tufts University decided to shorten its break to four days, which would reduce the likelihood of students and faculty traveling and engaging in excessive risky behavior while allowing some much-needed time off. 

For this year, I could accept not having a week-long break. However, Northeastern should add those days back in the form of long weekends and mental health days to truly “make it up” to us. We all remember how rejuvenating the long weekend for Indigenous People’s Day was and more of those will definitely help us cope with pandemic and school stress. A three- or four- day weekend every so often will have many of the same benefits that come with an extended break. Completely getting rid of a spring break won’t bode well for anyone, and clearly, there are other ways of structuring the schedule. 

Although Northeastern always claims to make decisions “after careful consideration,” I think it could have thought about this decision just a little bit more. An abundance of caution for our physical health is necessary, but when it comes at the expense of our mental health, something needs to change.  

Mia Merchant is a first-year in the Explore Program. She can be reached at [email protected].