This semester, in the midst of a global pandemic, Kenyon administrators chose not to give the Kenyon community a much-needed fall break. Short as it is, October break allows both students and faculty to have some time away from work before entering the second half of the semester. As necessary as it is in a normal school year, having a fall break is even more crucial this year as students, faculty and staff are struggling to cope with the effects of a devastating pandemic.
The College, however, has decided against this short break this semester. Though we are aware that this decision is intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting travel to and from campus, it does not justify the College’s failure to provide a fall break of any kind. The College should have sought to accomodate an on-campus break instead of outright cancelling the break for everyone, even for those studying and working remotely.
If the College was concerned about the dangers of an on-campus break, it should have thought to provide incentives for students to stay on the Hill — such as additional on-campus programming during the break — or even enforce such restrictions with disciplinary measures as necessary. Regardless, the pandemic should not be an excuse to withhold from students and professors a break they desperately need. Even if the College could not find a way to safely cancel classes, it could have at the very least come up with creative solutions to allow us time to rest, such as a universal pause on coursework and deadlines.
Many students are studying at home this semester, where they have more responsibilities than they normally would on campus. Likewise, professors are not only expected to teach in person, but also to learn new skills necessary for online teaching. The current circumstances are difficult for all of us, and they are affecting everyone in different ways. To ask Kenyon community members to complete full-length semesters, without the typical break, is to ignore the extraordinary circumstances we are all attempting to navigate.
The administration is not oblivious to the fact that students are feeling the effects of not having an October break. In an email to on-campus students Tuesday evening, Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 wrote, “I know this [quiet period] has been hard, and that the lack of a fall break has added stress to an already stressful COVID semester.” Later in the email, she reminded students of the College’s counseling services.
It would be one thing if the administration were unaware of the stress we are under and then failed to make changes to the schedule. It is quite another to acknowledge this failure and then — instead of proposing changes to the policy that has contributed to students’ stress — refer them to the College’s insufficient mental health services. To put it bluntly, this is not good enough.
It is along these same lines that we ask the administration to include a spring break next semester. In an email to the campus community last week, President Sean Decatur assured students and faculty that the administration had “learned this fall that we must build in time for renewal,” promising “two mid-week days off over the course of the semester.” Two mid-week days off does not allow for the kind of renewal that students and faculty members need in the midst of this global crisis. At a time like this, students, faculty and staff want to feel as if Kenyon’s leaders are listening to and supporting them to make this year go as well as it possibly can. This year, more than ever, students and faculty need time to take a breather and decompress. Denying them that time makes the community feel unsupported by an institution that pledges to care for its members.
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Mae Hunt ’21 and Evey Weisblat ’21, managing editor Sophie Krichevsky ’21 and executive director Elizabeth Stanley ’21. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.