As students anticipated their third wellness day Tuesday, some said Harvard’s policy to designate course-free days interspersed throughout the spring semester is ineffective, even if well-intended.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced last fall that FAS would not hold a spring break in 2021 to minimize travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic and would instead designate five “wellness days,” each held on different days of the week, throughout the spring semester.
Hayden Teeter ’24 said he spent the first two wellness days, which bookended weekends, “relaxing.” He will spend this week’s wellness day, though, preparing for a Wednesday midterm.
“I have to spend tomorrow just studying — so not really what I had in mind for a wellness day,” Teeter said.
Neil K. Khurana ’22 said he has a significant assignment due Wednesday, and though he asked his professor to consider pushing the due date to Thursday so that he and his classmates could more fully enjoy the wellness day, his professor declined.
To make matters worse, Khurana said, the course will not hold office hours Tuesday due to the wellness day, even though it usually holds sessions the day before a major assignment’s due date.
“On wellness days they cancel the office hours, which obviously makes sense,” he said. “TFs need some time off too.”
“But it doesn’t make sense that you’re going to have an assignment due the day after a wellness day if you’re canceling the most popular office hours the night before it’s due,” he added.
Austin D. Goldsmith-Lachut ’22 said, though he understands Harvard’s decision to forgo spring break to limit travel, he does not think it makes sense to have wellness days “randomly placed throughout the week.” He added he will spend Tuesday’s day off writing a paper due the next day.
“I don’t think they’re restful,” Goldsmith-Lachut said. “I think it was initially well-intended, but a big flop in the end.”
Goldsmith-Lachut also said he believes the irregular wellness day schedule is “disturbing” many course curricula. Instead of scrapping this week’s readings from the syllabus, a professor for his seminar, which will not meet Tuesday in observance of the wellness day, assigned the week’s readings as “optional.”
“There’s reading on the syllabus for this week but it’s optional, but we’re going to discuss it [next week],” Goldsmith-Lachut said. “It was expected that I do this reading — and kind of an informal violation of the policy.”
Some students said they believe Harvard should have taken a firmer stance on when assignments can be due after a wellness day occurs.
“No assignment should be due the day after a wellness day — that should have just been a blanket rule,” Khurana said.
Some students also said wellness days are an inadequate substitute for a traditional week-long spring break.
Joanna Boyland ’23 said she would have preferred a spring break, noting that wellness days do not pause weekly academic expectations.
“A lot of the classes have sort of a weekly rhythm and so when there’s a day off, it doesn’t really give you time off from that week’s set of assignments,” Boyland said. “I still have most of my homework, which is the real time commitment, still to do. And so it doesn’t as much feel like a break."
Teeter said wellness days, unlike spring break, do not provide adequate respite from coursework.
“It’s just more time to do homework essentially,” he said.
College spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on student criticisms.
Though some students said wellness days are an insufficient replacement for spring break, Chukwudi M. “Chudy” Ilozue ’24 said he believes the dispersed days off are both restorative and prudent.
“The extra days really are helpful,” Ilozue said. “The wellness days give intermittent grace, which is really what is the most useful in a time like this.”
“Spring break is not a Thanksgiving or Christmas,” he added.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in a January interview that the College is taking wellness days and related student feedback “very seriously.”
“The Office of Undergraduate Education stressed that no courses should be held on these days, whether synchronously or asynchronously, and that faculty should not assign work to be due on those days,” Khurana said. “And that faculty should set deadlines for assignments either before or after the wellness days in such a way that students can take full advantage of the days off.”
Khurana also acknowledged courses might implement wellness days differently depending on their curriculum.
“Faculty should clearly communicate how they’re handling due dates close to the wellness days to their students in advance,” he said.
—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @alexmkoller.
—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.