Written By: Angelie Roche
On Monday, Oct. 19, the Office of the Registrar released the academic calendar for the Spring 2021 semester. The format of the semester is similar to that of Fall 2020 as it is condensed, and ends earlier than normal in order to prevent students from going off-campus for extended periods of time and possibly becoming exposed to the coronavirus. St. Mary’s Project presentations will occur on April 26 and 27, final exams will take place between April 29 and May 4 and Commencement is scheduled for May 8 — roughly a week earlier than it would normally have been. The semester, which runs from Jan. 19 through April 27, will include two short “mental health breaks” rather than a longer spring break. The one-to two-day-long breaks are scheduled for Friday, March 5 and Friday, April 2 to Monday, April 5, spaced so that there are about six weeks between each break.
While the College’s administration noted that they believed the shorter breaks were intended to ensure the safety and mental wellbeing of its students, some St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) students believe that more could have been done. SMCM freshman Breanna Berry says that the mental health breaks should not be called “breaks,” as they are only one day, and that is not a sufficient amount of time for students to truly relax and decompress. Many share similar views, but recognize that even short breaks are extremely important stress relievers. Now more than ever, anxiety levels among college students are extremely high. A study conducted at Texas A&M University earlier this year found that 71% of students reported greater stress, anxiety, and depression due to COVID-19. Reasons for this sharp decline in mental health ranged from decreased social interactions to fear about the health of loved ones, and, of course, academic concerns. Though SMCM had no official breaks this semester, their plan to at least allow students some time to decompress will likely be welcomed by many.
Some students, however, fear the breaks will only heighten the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak. SMCM junior Dylan Parham understands that the college shortened breaks to protect against COVID-19; however, he says that a three-day weekend will not prevent students from leaving campus. He observed that “if you go to Lot R (in between Lewis Quad and Warring Commons) it is half empty without fail each weekend,” so students are still leaving campus despite SMCM’s strict policies. Though administration can condense the semester by providing less breaks, they still do not have complete control over students’ activities; it would be nearly impossible for them to attempt to monitor when students leave the campus, and where they are going. However, the College continues to advise students to wear masks and practice social distancing in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines in order to ensure their own safety, as well as the safety of the SMCM community.